The large drop box installed in front of the Oconee County Elections and Registration Office last year to make it easy for county voters to cast an absentee ballot is a thing of the past.
The drop box has been replaced, Oconee County Director of Elections and Registration Rebecca Anglin told county Democrats at their meeting last month, by a different one inside the office itself.
Voters will be able to use the new drop box only during the regular hours when the Elections and Registration Office at 10 Court Street opposite the Courthouse in Watkinsville is open to the pubic, Anglin said.
The drop box also will only be available to voters when early voting is taking place.
That means the drop box will not be available to absentee voters trying to guarantee in the last three days before the election that their absentee ballots will reach the office in time to be counted.
Anglin was responding to questions posed by Oconee County Democrats regarding Senate Bill 202, labeled the Election Integrity Act of 2021, at its regular June meeting held at the Oconee Chamber Of Commerce in Watkinsville and live streamed via Zoom.
Anglin was responding to eight questions submitted in advance and another six asked once she called for additional questions from the audience.
|Anglin Before Democrats 6/17/2021|
None of the questioners referred to the bill by number or used the Election Integrity Act name.
Three of the submitted questions referred to the legislation as “the voter suppression law.”
The bill was written by Republicans in the legislature and passed without any Democratic votes.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, Rep. Houston Gaines, and Rep. Marcus Wiedower, Republicans who represent Oconee County in the Georgia General Assembly, all voted for the bill.
Anglin answered each of the questions without referencing the correct name of the law or the name used by the questioners.
Anglin told the group she had not yet gotten guidance from the Secretary of State Office on the bill, so her responses were based on her own reading of the law.
The first question Anglin read asked if the drop box for absentee ballots would be at the Civic Center, where the county conducted early voting in November and again in January.
Anglin said the drop box, which had been just outside the door of the election office “has been moved inside of our office.” The old drop box had been under surveillance and available 24 hours per day last year and for the election in January.
“We bought a new one,” Anglin said. “The one that you are used to has been taken up, and we have one inside our office.”
“That is where it will remain and not in the advanced voting location,” she said.
To get to the drop box, the voter will have to walk past the clerks at the front desk, she said.
“We would actually prefer that you just walk in and hand it (the ballot) to somebody directly,” Anglin added. “If you are not comfortable with that, you walk past those individuals and the box is straight ahead.”
New Drop Box Already Used
Anglin said in the just-completed Watkinsville election, the drop box was located inside the office, rather than at City Hall, where early voting took place.
No one used the drop box, she said. She also said she anticipates many fewer votes via absentee balloting in the future.
The new law does not allow Oconee County to add additional drop boxes beyond the one at the election office, Anglin said.
“I’ll just comment that that is stupid,” Ken Davis, who represents the party on the Board of Elections and Registration, said.
“I have to refrain from commenting,” Anglin responded.
In addition to limiting drop box use, the new bill targets absentee voting in several other ways.
Absentee ballot applications have to be received at least 11 days prior to the date of the election. In the past, there was no such restriction.
In the application, the applicant must provide a driver’s license number, or state identification card number, or a photo copy of some other identification document, such as a passport.
In the past, the applicant signed a form asking for an absentee ballot and the signature was matched with that on a form on file before the ballot was mailed.
The new law states that third parties that send out forms to persons to be used in requesting an absentee ballot cannot send them to anyone who already requested a ballot, received a ballot, or already voted.
In the past, absentee ballots could be sent out 49 days in advance of the election. The new law restricts that mailing to 29 days before an election.
Reason For Change
The new bill was a response to the 2020 election, in which Democrat Joe Biden won the presidential vote in Georgia and, after runoffs in January of 2021, Democrats John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won two U.S. Senate seats.
|Thing Of The Past|
Absentee ballots were more likely to be Democratic, even in Oconee County, which overwhelmingly voted for Republicans in all three of those races.
“The voter suppression law is requiring more rigid identification requirements for absentee voters,” one of the submitted questions read by Anglin stated. “What will that look like on the ballot or the envelope or the back ballot.”
“As of yet we do not know,” Anglin said. “The state has told us the design process for envelopes is underway. We have not seen an envelope ourselves.”
“We’re behind voters either way,” Anglin said. “It does not bother us if you vote absentee or in person. We’re just happy people are voting. So whatever way the voters feels is more comfortable for them, we’re happy with that.”
Lines, Water, Snacks
Another of the questions read by Anglin asked “At what distance from a polling site can snacks and waters be given to voters waiting in line.”
“The answer to that is 150 feet from the outer edge of any building to which a polling site is attached,” Anglin said. This is the same restriction as for campaign materials and for signs.
“We have never had an issue with that here in Oconee County,” she said. “Obviously, if a voter is in stress or somebody needs water, we’re not going to just sit and watch somebody that needs some water.”
The reason for change in the law, Anglin said in response to a question, is that “a lot of political parties and bodies were giving it out like a campaign material or putting logos on it.”
Anglin said there have been many times in the county when signs were too close to the voting.
“We are out there at 6 a.m. running the meter to 150 feet,” Anglin said. “We always make sure.”
One of the advance questions asked if the new law allows for challenges to votes once they are cast.
“Once an election is certified, you don’t change the vote,” Anglin said.
“If you believe somebody is not a resident of Oconee County and you believe they are going to vote here or attempt to vote here, you can come to our office and say I am challenging so and so who isn’t living here,” Anglin said.
“There are several protocols that are in place if you think someone should not be here voting,” she said. “So if you know of someone or you are challenging someone you would need to do it before they actually cast their ballot.”
Anglin said the new law sets a deadline of no later than 5 p.m. on the Monday following the election for the county to certify the results.
Another of the submitted questions asked when the State Election Board is allowed to seize power from a local board.
“If an investigation is opened against a Board of Election and a determination of sufficient cause exists,” Anglin said, “a hearing is conducted and rulings are made.”
The State Election Board can suspend the superintendent, she said.
“So if I was written up over something that happened, they would open an investigation and they would come in and they would conduct an investigation,” Anglin said.
“If their findings were true, then they could suspend me and we would go from there.
“If their findings were false, then there wouldn’t be anything to proceed with,” she said. “So there is kind of structured process that happens there."
“That is something brand new that is put into effect” with the law, she said.
Though Anglin did not mention this, the law gives Sen. Cowsert and either Rep. Wiedower or Rep. Gaines the ability to request a performance review by the State Elections Board of Anglin.
Protection For Anglin
Someone from the audience asked Anglin who would represent her in such an investigation.
“I asked that right away even though I do not foresee anything,” Anglin said.
“Some counties have opted to take out policies on their chair,” she said. “It is like insurance.
“Our county administration has told me that our county attorney would be the one who represented me and would have full backing from our county,” she said.
“The county has told me they would make sure I was taken care of,” she said.
Absentee Ballots Again
When Anglin opened up the meeting for new question, attention turned again to absentee ballots.
“If we have had absentee ballots in the past, what do we have to do to get them in the future?” one persons asked.
“If you are 65 and older or you have a handicap or disability, you can check a box on your application and you will receive a ballot for the entire year,” Anglin said.
“If you are just simply going to be out of town and you want to vote, you can just apply for an absentee ballot and just vote one time,” She said.
“Just mark the section and we’ll send you a ballot for that election,” she said.
In Special Elections, however, the voter has to apply anew, even if she or he had asked for an absentee ballot for the entire year, Anglin said.
I did not attend the meeting and was not able to watch it live streamed on Zoom.
Melissa Hopkinson, vice-chair of the Democratic Party, recorded the session for me and provided me with a copy.
The video below is of the entire meeting.
Anglin began speaking at 1:18 in the video.
The Oconee County Republican Party banned me from recording its June meeting, saying it wants to maintain control over the release of information from its meetings.
I did write a story based on information I was able to obtain about the GOP meeting.