Sara Tindall Ghazal, former voter protection director for the Georgia Democratic Party, and Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, participating in a virtual Town Hall meeting last week, urged Georgia voters to apply for an absentee ballot for the May 19 election.
Voters should fill out the application sent to all active, registered voters in the state by Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the two said, as a safe way to vote as the COVID-19 pandemic plays out in the state.
UPDATE: Raffensperger on Thursday morning moved the primary back to June 9.
“Keep your eyes open for the absentee ballot. Understand that it’s an application,” virtual Town Hall meeting organizer Mokah Jasmine Johnson said in summarizing the comments of the two. “You must fill it out and mail it back in,” she said, noting that “mail” could be faxing or sending in the form via email.
Johnson is running unopposed on May 19 to be the Democratic nominee for the 117th House District that includes parts of Oconee, Clarke, Barrow and Jackson counties. The seat is now held by Republican Houston Gaines.
The Town Hall meeting took place on Facebook and Zoom, and Johnson used as a backdrop a campaign poster.
Ghazal also is candidate in the May 19 election. She is unopposed as the Democratic nominee for House District 45, which includes East Cobb and Sandy Springs.
The deadline for submitting the application for an absentee ballot is May 15, according to Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration Director Fran Leathers.
The May 19 election includes the postponed March 24 Presidential Primary, the party primaries for local offices and for the U.S. Senate seat held by David Perdue, and nonpartisan judicial races.
Structure Of Meeting
Ghazal and Woodall linked into the meeting with Johnson from their home sites.
The meeting started at 5:30 p.m. and ran for an hour.
Bart King, communications director for Johnson, said more than 50 people participated via Facebook and another “dozen” were on the Zoom connection.
The session was titled “Protecting Your Vote During the COVID crisis,” and the first half of the conversation dealt with voting. It was followed by a discussion of the Census.
The meeting turned back to voting at several points in the second half hour as Johnson passed along questions from the audience.
Johnson and Ghazal also used that second half for a pitch to voters. Matt Dollar, the incumbent, is unopposed in the Republican Primary for the 45th House District.
“One of the reasons why I’m running is because I’m tired of asking other people to make decisions that are in the best interest for myself, my family, and my community,” Johnson said.
“I am fighting for the people and the people will always come first,” she said.
Ghazal On Voting
Ghazal is an attorney and has worked for the Carter Center internationally, assisting with elections.
She told the audience that only active voters have been mailed the invitation from Raffensperger to request an absentee ballot.
Registered voters who are classified as inactive can still get an absentee ballot, she said, but they will need to request it from their local election office.
Voters can check on the status of the registration at mvp.sos.ga.gov. The login is on the right side of the page and only requires name, county, and date of birth for access.
Voters who are not registered have until April 20 to do so and still be able to vote in the May 19 election.
“The best way to insure both election integrity and public health is by voting by mail,” Ghazal said.
“When you’ve got you ballot you can do you research right then and there,” she said. “That’s the beauty of voting on an absentee ballot. You can sit there with your ballot and your laptop or your phone and you can research and really understand who it is that you are voting for.”
Woodall On Voting
Woodall said he was very pleased that Raffensperger had decided to send out an absentee ballot request form to all active voters “but we still have a long way to go to insure everybody has access to the ballot.”
Woodall said he wants the Secretary of State to put postage on the ballot so voters don’t have to pay the $0.55 for a stamp to mail it to the local election office.
“Some people are literally living paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
Woodall also is concerned that students who are away from their campus residences because of COVID-19 won’t get their applications.
He also is concerned about the requirement that the signature on the application form and ballot has to match an official signature, most likely on the individual’s driver’s license.
Woodall said the state has an “obligation to insure that voters have adequate access in an accessible and available means to vote.”
Comments On Census
Ghazal said citizens should be particularly attentive to the request for information from the U.S. Census, which can be completed online, because the information is used in districting.
“If you want to make sure that you have the appropriate representation and that you are being counted,” she said. “you have to literally stand up and be counted.”
Woodall said his organization is telling people to complete the form online and not to answer the door for a Census Taker.
“When we look at the political climate we are facing in this country,” he said, “having somebody knock on your door to fill out a document that has personal identifiable information, that becomes a serious personal threat to some of our communities, especially the Latinx community.”
“We want to make sure we have a voluntary self-response movement,” he said.
“We’ve got to start with the Census,” Woodall said. “That’s the number one way to impact policy is through self-reporting.”
Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston continues to push for a postponement of the May 19 election, but Woodall said he was assuming the election will take place now that Raffensperger has mailed out the requests for absentee ballots.
Gov. Brian Kemp extended his emergency order today in response to COVID-19 to May 13 and his shelter in place order until April 30.
A prime concern has been the safety of the poll workers, many of whom are in the most vulnerable group by age.
Leathers from the Oconee County Elections and Registration Office told me in an email message on Tuesday that “As of right now, we have had quite a few poll workers decline to work and most are waiting until closer to the election to make a decision based on the severity of COVID-19.”
Ballot Option Explained
Leathers said that the absentee ballot application form allows voters to pick a Democratic Ballot, a Republican Ballot, or a Non Partisan Ballot, and that voters who pick either the Democratic Ballot or the Republican ballot automatically will have the nonpartisan election included with their ballot.
Persons who pick the Non Partisan Ballot option will only get to vote in the nonpartisan elections.
Voters who participated in early voting for the Presidential Primary before it was postponed will not get another ballot for that race, she said, but voters who had not participated in early voting will get either the Democratic or Republican presidential ballot based on which box they checked on the form.
Voters will not be able to vote for one party for the Presidential Primary and another party for the local and state elections, she said.
That type of party switching normally is allowed and was possible for those who participated in early voting.
Early voting for the May 19 election starts on April 27.
I recorded the virtual Town Hall session via the record option on Zoom. That video is below.
The discussion begins with voting, and Ghazal speaks first and is then followed by Woodall.
Discussion switches to the Census at 26:04 in the video.