Elections office ready for unusually high amount of absentee voting

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by HALEI LAMB

Typically, absentee voting at the local level in normal elections hovers around 2 or 3 percent. Kerry Curry, who serves as elections director for Emanuel County, says her office is prepared for upwards of 50 percent absentee voting, thanks to precautionary measures related to COVID-19. Because more voters will be mailing in their ballots as opposed to perhaps early voting and voting in person on Election Day, here is what you need to know about how absentee voting comes together:

Registered voters should have already begun receiving absentee applications from the Elections Division of the Secretary of State’s Office. Once voters receive those applications in the mail, they should fill it out and mail it back to the local office at 105 South Main Street, Swainsboro, GA 30401. The Emanuel County Elections Department will then receive the application and upload it to the state. The state’s contracted vendor will then send back to voters a ballot within three days.

Casting an absentee ballot is as simple as dropping it in your mailbox, but voters can also scan their ballot or take a clear photo of it before emailing it to the elections office. Electronic submissions should be sent to e@emanuelco-ga.gov. If the quality isn’t up to par, someone from Curry’s office will be in touch with you. No matter how you submit your absentee ballot, Curry stresses the importance of signing it as well as checking your party.

Curry and Kendall Green oversee the incoming absentee ballots as they trickle in by mail. Those ballots remain unopened until election night as the elections office is not legally permitted to open them until that time. Once the ballots are opened, the board of elections counts them twice for verification purposes. There is also a checks and balances system in place to make sure that no one votes twice.

Traditional voting options still exist for those who do not wish to participate in absentee voting. As of Monday, April 6, Curry still anticipates early voting to begin April 27. On a conference call this past Saturday, the state expressed its intent to move along with that anticipation. Currently, the last day for early voting will be May 15. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Voters may also cast their votes Saturday, May 9, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Early voting must be done at the Emanuel County Elections Office. Details about any changes that may occur in the future will be published in The Blade as soon as possible.

Voters also have the option to vote at their designated polling precincts on Election Day, which will be May 19. Hours for regular voting are, as usual, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“This will be a dramatically different election than what we’ve seen in the past,” Curry explained Monday. “Not only are we working with new machines, but we’re anticipating a much higher percentage of absentee voting.”

Her office will be implementing new voting machines for the first time with the upcoming election. Previously, each individual paper ballot had to be fed into a machine to be counted. Now, the new machines will count 25 ballots at a time, thus yielding results more quickly. Curry explained, “In previous elections, each touchscreen machine used for voting had a card in it. We had to go and shut down each machine, take the card out, bring all those cards back to the office, and upload every one of them. Now, since we’re using a scanner, each machine prints out a paper and we scan it, so it’s just one card from every precinct. Naturally, there will be a faster turnaround for results.”

In regard to the higher volume of mail-in votes, she added, “This election would’ve been different to begin with simply because we had all new machines with paper ballots being printed and scanned. We have a paper ballot for every voter, regardless if they vote in the mail or if they vote in person, so we have a paper trail. That was already different, but now with the coronavirus, I anticipate at least 50 percent of our voters by mail whereas its normally around 2 or 3 percent, so that’s a remarkable difference. Hopefully in November, voting goes back to normal.”

For the here and now, though, she says her office is prepared. All members of the Emanuel County Board of Elections will be present to help. Together, the team will open the multitude of envelopes, review and vote on illegible ballots, and transpose those particular ballots to clean ones to be scanned for proper counting.

Currently, the board of elections is comprised of Curry, Marty Ray, Edna Mosley, and Donald Jenkins. The board is looking to fill a vacancy left by the recent resignation ahead of the passing of the late Rev. Eugene Davis. Should a member of the community want to serve on this board, call the Emanuel County Elections Office at 237-3471 or apply online through the commissioners’ office. The commissioners will then select a second at-large member to join another at-large representative, one Democratic representative, one Republican representative, and Curry. Timeliness of the application and approval process will determine whether or not the new member will be able to help with the upcoming primary.

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