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COVID-19 pandemic delays March primary and complicates May 19 primary plans

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COVID-19 pandemic delays March primary and complicates May 19 primary plans

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By Zoe Seiler, contributor

DeKalb County, GA – Georgia elections and primaries scheduled for March have been postponed to the May 19 primaries due to the coronavirus.

This leaves voters with many questions.

The presidential primary and election for the DeKalb County Sheriff, both previously scheduled for March 24, have been postponed until May 19. Both elections will appear on the May 19 ballot.

However, ballots will differ depending on if someone voted early for the March 24 presidential primary or sheriff’s election.

If someone voted early in the presidential primary they will be noted in the state’s voter system and will receive a ballot without the presidential primary or local questions since they already voted in those elections, said Gabriel Sterling, the statewide voting system implementation manager at the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.

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“Now everybody else, which is the majority of people, will have access to a ballot that includes the [presidential preference primary], and if there was a local question, the local question [and] all the general primary questions will be on there as well,” Sterling said.

There are currently two separate races for the county sheriff: one is a special election to complete the term that expires at the end of 2020 and the second is to start the new term on Jan. 2, 2021, Sarah Jones Page, a spokesperson for CEO Michael Thurmond, explained in an email.

“If a citizen voted early for the presidential primary and sheriff special election, they will only have one sheriff race on the ballot (the regular sheriff election),” she said. “If a citizen did not vote early for the presidential primary and sheriff special election, they will have two sheriff races on the ballot, one being the special election (to fill the current term through 2020) and one being the general (to start the new term in 2021).”

Additionally, the ballot will include candidates for president, Congress, the Georgia General Assembly and other county races, such as judicial races and races for the County Commission, said Baoky Vu, a member of the DeKalb County Board of Registrations and Elections.

For those who voted early, the ballots have been received and will be counted.

“Normally, let’s say for instance you send it in before March 24,” Vu said. “Well, on the day of the elections which is March 24, we would have had a team open your ballots with a vote review panel, which is comprised of one Democrat, one Republican and the department of registration and elections, there to monitor and to ensure that each vote gets counted as clearly as possible. Now we’re just going to do that on May 19.”

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The county and state are facing challenges as polling places and workers are declining to participate in the election.

Vu said he received an email about some churches being concerned about their facilities. Those churches may not be able to be used as polling places.

“That completely changes the game plan because now we’re squeezed to go look for new facilities that would actually allow us to have that,” he said.

The county normally relies on three groups of entities during elections to act as polling places: schools, libraries and churches, Vu said.

“When any one of them makes changes, it impacts us tremendously because we still have to look locally within that precinct, and then try to adjust it,” he added.

Sterling added that the law requires that every county must have three weeks of in-person voting in at least one location in every county.

Voters will have the option to vote in person on election day and during three weeks of early voting starting April 27, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The law further requires that we have a precinct-based election day system,” Sterling said. “Now the realities of that are, polling places are pulling out and poll workers are pulling out daily so we’re looking to supplement those things. We’re looking to back up plans and just trying to make sure we have every contingency we can think of, given the laws we have to follow, thought of.”

The state will supply disinfectant spray and wipes as well as gloves to poll workers to help mitigate the risks to them, Sterling said.

Vu said that the county CEO has set up a task force to study the problem and make sure everything is being handled come election day.

“We’re talking about mitigating the risk for the poll workers, mitigating the fact that these polling precincts could actually become a place of virus transmission,” he said. “So that’s why we’re having to deal with multiple issues outside of just printing the ballots and putting them there. There are a lot of concerns that we have to address.”

To help mitigate the risks to poll workers and voters, the Georgia Secretary of State announced a major push to encourage voting by mail.

Absentee ballot request forms will be mailed to voters. The ballots began being sent on Monday and will continue to be mailed through the week, the AJC reported.

Voters will then choose whether they want to vote in the Democratic or Republican Party primary, sign their name, add a 55-cent stamp and mail the form back, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The AJC reported that the absentee ballot request forms are being mailed statewide this week by R.R. Donnelley, a Chicago-based communications and printing company. Absentee ballots can be requested online through the Secretary of State’s Office or the County Board of Registrations and Elections. Once the ballot has been requested, election officials will mail each voter the appropriate ballot.

Voters will then fill out the ballot and can either mail it back or drop it off at the county Registrar’s office during regular business hours, Sterling said. The county board of registrar’s office is located at 4380 Memorial Drive Suite, 300, Decatur, GA 30032.

“A completed absentee ballot has to be in the Registrar’s office by the closing of the polls on election day so 7 p.m. on election day. Tuesday, [May] 19 is what that is right now,” Sterling said.

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Absentee by mail applications for the combined ballot, which includes the presidential primary and special election as well as the May general primary, will be accepted until Friday, May 15.

The voter registration deadline for the primary election is April 20.

You can look up your registration status by visiting the Georgia Secretary of State’s “My Voter Page.” To visit the My Voter Page, click here. You can check your status by providing basic information like your last name, birthday and the county you live in. You can also see a sample ballot.

If you find you are not registered and want to be registered in time for the next election, there are a few ways you can get back on the voter rolls.

You can register online with the Secretary of State’s Office by clicking here.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, in order to register to vote you must:

– Be a citizen of the United States

– Be a legal resident of the county where you are voting

– Be at least 17 1/2 years of age to register and 18 years of age to vote

– Not be serving a sentence for conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude

– Have not been found mentally incompetent by a judge

For more information about how to register, click here.

People who wish to vote will need to bring one of the following forms of identification, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office:

– Any valid state or federal government-issued photo ID, including a free ID Card issued by your county registrar’s office or the Georgia Department of Driver Services (DDS)

– A Georgia Driver’s License, even if expired

– Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. Government, Georgia, or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state

– Valid U.S. passport ID

– Valid U.S. military photo ID

– Valid tribal photo ID

People voting by mail will be identified using signature verification, Sterling said. He said “99 percent of those go through,” but if a signature doesn’t match, those voters will be mailed a provisional ballot and asked to return that along with a photocopy of their identification. He said three people have to agree that a signature does not match before a provisional ballot is sent to a voter.

The county board of registrar’s office is located at 4380 Memorial Drive Suite, 300, Decatur, GA 30032.

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