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DeKalb County Elections Board says don’t mail ballots, drop them off

campaign coverage COVID-19 Metro ATL

DeKalb County Elections Board says don’t mail ballots, drop them off

Official Absentee Ballot Drop Box at 4380 Memorial Drive in greater Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

Greater Decatur, GA — In a meeting to certify the August runoff election, DeKalb County Board of Voter Registration and Elections members committed to increasing staff around the Nov. 3 election, training extra staff and volunteers, and adding ballot drop boxes for two fall elections.

Sept. 29 is the special election to fill Rep. John Lewis’ former seat, and Nov. 3 is the general election. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that there will be historic number of absentee ballots cast this year.

But while discussing the current political climate on Aug. 20, Board Chair Samuel Tillman told voters to submit absentee ballots to drop boxes rather than mailing ballots through the United States Postal Service.

Tillman said he has lost confidence in the USPS, once a trusted government agency.

“[The regional postmaster] is making decisions based on what his bosses at another level are telling him,” he said. “And whatever they tell him to do out of Washington, D.C., that’s what he’s going to do. I’m going to just encourage people to use our drop boxes.”

Over the weekend, Rep. Hank Johnson attended a protest at the Decatur post office. Johnson tweeted, “Americans count on @USPS to conduct business, get prescription medications, critical supplies, and exercise their right to vote. Democrats will do everything in our power to protect the Postal Service and our democracy from President Trump.”

Tillman said news surrounding the USPS has tossed the most trusted government agency into disarray.

“These are some unusual times that we are living in. As we move to this November election, I’m not sure what’s gonna happen,” he said.

Voters should not put ballots in the mail, he said.

“The other thing that’s concerned me is that, as we move to November, this office will be advocating and pushing that as soon as you receive your ballot – and we’re going to get it to you rather quickly, within two to three days maximum, we are going to get your ballot back in the mail to you,” Tillman said. “I’m gonna suggest to you that you fill that out as quick as you possibly can. Do not put it back in the mail. Take it to a drop box. I don’t have any confidence anymore in this postal service as we move to the November election. I am real concerned about what’s going to happen.”

Board members did not respond to his remarks.

Erica Hamilton, director of Voter Registration and Elections for DeKalb County, said the county has 10 boxes, and six more are being ordered. Locations for future drop boxes may include Decatur, Tucker, Chamblee, Bouldercrest, and Lithonia.

Board member Susan Motter expressed concern about residents in Southwest DeKalb who need better access to drop boxes.

“We do want to put out enough drop boxes to make sure we can accommodate all of our citizens,” she said, adding the cost of one dropbox is about $700.

According to state law, absentee ballot drop boxes must be adequately lit, under 24-hour video surveillance, and secured to the ground. Drop boxes must be on county or municipal government property accessible to the public, although DeKalb may ask for that rule to be relaxed.

Last week, neighboring Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robb Pitts asked the state board of elections to add drop boxes at locations like CVS, Walgreens, Publix, and Kroger.

Tillman is eyeing churches to serve as dropbox locations, but board member Anthony Lewis pushed back stating drop boxes should remain on government property due to safety and surveillance concerns.

State law dictates a dropbox must be strong enough to withstand inclement weather and vandalism and constructed to prevent tampering.

Tillman plans to review drop box locations and “make sure our drop boxes are spread out as equally as possible.”

“We are looking every day for locations,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t want this to get out in the public, but I have spoken to one of our warehouse person [sic]. He is going to contact the Post Office and see if some of the boxes they’re taking up? See if we can buy some of those boxes, paint them, retrofit them, and use them as our drop boxes.

 

“They’re very, very simple. So, if we can get those boxes, that they are taking up, not using anymore, or some they’ve got stored in a warehouse they’re not gonna use, we are going to look into purchasing those. And using those as our drop boxes.”

Hamilton said grants are available to offset the cost of drop boxes through the office of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Tillman said a letter will be sent to Raffensperger to request an expansion of dropbox locations.

Board member Motter asked if the board needed to take a vote.

Tillman said, “We are just going to go ahead and do it. I have directed Ms. Hamilton to go ahead and draft a letter for my signature, and we will just go ahead and send it out. From the board. If y’all allow me the authority to sign on behalf of the board.”

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