Recent court orders regarding the counting of absentee and provisional ballots won’t affect the vote totals in Coweta, but the required review of certain ballots around the state could shorten the early voting period for the Dec. 4 runoff.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled Wednesday that Georgia counties must count absentee ballots that were only missing a voter’s birthday.
That’s in line with a court decision from 2005, Jones v. Jesup, which found that incorrectly writing the date of signature instead of writing the voter’s birthday was not a reason to reject a ballot. Secretary of State Robin Crittenden, who was appointed to the post by Gov. Nathan Deal after Brian Kemp stepped down last week, issued guidance on the matter to county election officials around the state on Monday.
Jones’ decision came in a case filed by the Democratic Party of Georgia. The plaintiffs had also asked Jones to require that provisional ballots cast by voters who voted in the wrong county be counted, for statewide races only. Jones denied that request.
Coweta Elections Superintendent Jane Scoggins said Thursday that there were no absentee ballots rejected in Coweta for birthdate issues. There were 24 ballots that were flagged for issues with a signature – either the voter’s oath wasn’t signed at all, or the signatures didn’t match. Two of the voters cleared up the issue before last Friday’s deadline for provisional ballots, and those votes counted. The other 22 voters were notified of the signature mismatch, but did not respond, Scoggins said.
“All of ours got two letters,” Scoggins said, and those who provided phone numbers on their absentee ballot applications also received phone calls.
Some of those voters whose ballots were rejected did vote on election day in person. “If the ballot was rejected, you could just vote” on election day, Scoggins said.
The county works hard to help voters resolve issues, Scoggins said. “We really go above and beyond, she said. If you go to the trouble of voting an absentee ballot, we want it to count,” she said.
She said she doesn’t understand why someone wouldn’t sign the oath, or why those who were contacted about the issues wouldn’t come back in if they really wanted to vote.
The oath and signatures, as well as the number on the absentee ballot envelope, are the only ways to verify the identity of a voter casting an absentee ballot, according to Scoggins.
On Thursday, Scoggins and her staff were working on additional paperwork needed to comply with the judge’s order and direction from the Secretary of State’s Office. There will be no changes to Coweta’s certified election results, she said.
She is now waiting on the state to certify the election so that work can begin for the Dec. 4 runoff. Currently, there will be two races on the statewide ballot for the runoff: Secretary of State between Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow, and Public Service Commission District 3 between incumbent Republican Chuck Eaton and Democratic Challenger Lindy Miller.
There’s a slight possibility of other runoffs, once all votes are counted. Several lawsuits have been filed regarding the governor’s race, with Democrat Stacey Abrams and her campaign waiting until all votes are counted to determine if Republican Brian Kemp won the race without a runoff.
There will only be a few days of early voting for the Dec. 4 runoff, and those planning to vote absentee will have a very short time in which to do it.
Voters who are considered “elderly and disabled” should automatically receive absentee ballots, Scoggins said. Other Coweta voters who wish to vote by mail can go ahead and send in an absentee ballot request. Ballots will be sent as soon as possible – but that won’t be soon.
If the the ballots aren’t sent to the election superintendent’s office by Nov. 28, voters may not receive them in the mail until Nov. 30, Scoggins said. And they have to be in the Coweta Voter Registration Office by Dec. 4.
“As soon as you get it, you need to vote it and mail it back,” Scoggins said. Ballots can also be hand-delivered to the Voter Registration Office, 22 East Broad St., Newnan, during regular business hours or until 7 p.m. on election day.
Scoggins said she is hoping to have early voting Nov. 28-30 – the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday before the election. If the state can get things certified soon enough and ballots finalized, early voting could begin on Tuesday the 27th.
Scoggins said her official plan was to start early voting on Monday, Nov. 19 and run it for two weeks, but the delay in certifying the election and determining who will be on the ballot for the runoff means that won’t happen.
“Even if they certify Friday and they work all weekend, I don’t see how they can get it to us before Monday or Tuesday,” Scoggins said. It takes two days to program all the cards for the voting machines, and that runs into Thanksgiving. Scoggins said she and her staff won’t be working on Thanksgiving day, but if they work all the other days, it’s possible that early voting could start sometime on Monday, Nov. 26.
Anyone who was registered to vote in the Nov. 6 election can vote in the runoff, even if they didn’t vote on Nov. 6. Teens who registered at age 17 1/2, before the Oct. 9 deadline, and who turn 18 by Dec. 4 can also vote, even if they were not 18 on Nov. 6.
For more information on absentee voting, visit www.mvp.sos.ga.gov or call 770-254-2615.
As part of a court order regarding provisional ballots, the state has established a hotline that allows voters to check the status of their provisional ballots: 1-844-537-5375.