By Tia Lynn Ivey
The State of Georgia announced last Thursday that the May 19 Primary Election has been postponed again until Tuesday, June 9. The three-week postponement is due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus currently sweeping across the state and country. The primary was originally slated for March 24 and has now been delayed twice by state officials.
Local election officials are relieved by the decision.
“I am relieved that the election was postponed, as starting early voting on April 27 while the COVID-19 pandemic was expected to peak, was worrisome due to health and safety concerns for voters, poll workers, and election staff,” said Jennifer Doran, Morgan County Election Supervisor.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced the delay on the heels of Gov. Brian Kemp extending Georgia’s Public Health State of Emergency declaration until May 13. According to Raffensperger, the state of emergency extension was a prerequisite necessary to postpone the primary, which will feature presidential, state, and local primary contests. State leaders and health officials warned that holding the primary election in May could result in significant numbers of coronavirus cases due to large crowds in enclosed spaces and long lines of people casting ballots across the state. Poll workers could be at a particular risk, since the majority are senior citizens and elderly adults are more susceptible to severe complications from COVID-19. The coronavirus has already infected thousands across Georgia and has killed hundreds of people.
“This decision allows our office and county election officials to continue to put in place contingency plans to ensure that voting can be safe and secure when in-person voting begins and prioritizes the health and safety of voters, county election officials and poll workers,” said Raffensperger.
Voter registration has been extended to May 11 and early voting for the primary will start on May 18. The Georgia Secretary of State Office will be sending absentee ballot applications to every registered Georgia voter. According to Raffensperger, “Requests for mail-in ballots that have already been sent in will still be valid to receive an absentee ballot for the June 9 election.”
The June 9 Primary will debut Georgia’s new $107 million voting system, which combines touchscreens and scanners for voters to cast their ballots, print out their choices and scan it to be counted. State officials noted that “reports of mounting difficulties” from Georgia counties made it clear that an in-person election in May and early voting at the end of April would not be feasible.
According to the Capitol Beat News Service, “The three-week delay gives state and county election officials more time to train poll workers, distribute cleaning supplies and draw backup plans for any possible issues.”
Raffensperger praised poll workers as essential to democracy, pledging to secure their health and safety.
“Just like our brave healthcare workers and first responders, our county election officials and poll workers are undertaking work critical to our democracy, and they will continue to do this critical work with all the challenges that the current crisis has brought forth,” said Raffensperger.
According to Raffensperger, the delay of the primary to June could create conflicts with federal laws mandating particular deadlines for runoff results and ballot creation for the Nov. 3 General Election.
“I certainly realize that every difficulty will not be completely solved by the time in-person voting begins for the June 9 election, but elections must happen even in less than ideal circumstances,” Raffensperger said.
According to the Capitol Beat News Service out of Atlanta, influential Republican state leaders have been pressing the Secretary of State to delay the primary again, while state democrats were hesitant. “Raffensperger, a Republican, faced increasing pressure in recent weeks from influential Republican lawmakers including House Speaker David Ralston and all 11 of Georgia’s Republican congressional members to push back the primary to mid-June,” reported Beau Evans, with the Capitol Beat. “Until Thursday, Raffensperger said he would need the governor to extend the public health emergency beyond its original April 13 expiration date before he could delay the primary, though legislative counsel for the General Assembly disputed that legal interpretation.mKemp signed an executive order Wednesday extending the emergency status through May 13, which Raffensperger said cleared the way for him to act. Georgia Democratic leaders, meanwhile, had previously opposed a delay past May 19, arguing state officials should instead focus on bolstering absentee voting.”