Just days before the statewide January 5 U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia, questions surrounding the administration of the “rollover” absentee ballot program and the timing of the mailing of approved ballot applications for those who were ostensibly on the “rollover” lists in Fulton County remain unanswered.
Also unclear is the legal authority by which the “rollover” absentee ballot program was established.
“Georgians who are over the age of 65, members of the military or are physically disabled have the option of receiving absentee ballots for an entire election cycle by submitting a single application,” Atlanta radio station WABE reported in November.
Voters who fit one of these criteria and have applied for the program were put on what is called a “rollover” list. That means their absentee voter status rolls over from November into January, and they are supposed to receive two absentee ballots, one for each election.
According to Newsweek, the “rollover” system is not new to the 2020 election cycle. Voters in Georgia who meet the “rollover” criteria “can check a box on their first absentee ballot application each year and have an absentee ballot sent to them automatically for every election in that year.”
However, the official Absentee Voting Guide provided by the state of Georgia, released in 2014, does not specifically reference “rollover” ballots, but does say the following:
If a physically disabled voter or voter 75 years or older makes a written request to receive an absentee ballot for the primary, primary runoff, election, and election runoff he or she will receive ballots without having to ask again by specifically stating such on the written request or absentee application. Physically disabled voters must submit separate absentee applications for the Presidential Preference Primary and all Special Elections.
That qualification process is markedly different than the one used in the 2020 election cycle, as described by WABE and Newsweek.
According to the official Absentee Voting Guide, a voter must be physically disabled and over the age of 75 – not 65 – to qualify for the “rollover” list. The official Absentee Voting Guide also makes no reference to military personnel, and requires a written request in order for a voter to be added to the “rollover” list, instead of simply checking a box on an absentee ballot application.
Though the official Absentee Voting Guide dates back to 2014, it is where voters are currently directed for questions about Georgia’s absentee voting process when visiting Georgia’s official state website.
The Georgia Star News reached out the Georgia Secretary of State’s office for clarity about when the “rollover” list law was implemented, and what laws, if any, dictate the “rollover” list rules. The office did not respond to the comment request.
The “rollover” list is not working for everyone.
A source in Fulton County, Georgia, the county that is home to Atlanta, who meets the criteria to receive “rollover” absentee ballots told The Star News that despite voting absentee in November and applying on time for a “rollover” ballot, a second absentee ballot has not arrived for the January runoff received. The source said that the absentee ballot had still not arrived as of Friday.
Regina Waller, a public affairs manager for Fulton County elections told The Star News that the state mailed out the last of the “rollover” ballots on November 30.
The Star News‘ source said that when speaking with an election worker in Fulton County, the worker said rollover ballots for those over 65 and in the military the January runoff were being mailed after other ballots.
But in an email to The Star News, Waller said that “rollover” ballots were mailed “first.”
Waller did not respond to further inquiries.
Meanwhile, some Georgians who are on the “rollover” list still need to request a second ballot for the January runoff, according to WABE.
“Residents of the 5th Congressional District in Fulton, Clayton and DeKalb counties who are on the rollover list will still need to request a ballot if they plan to vote absentee,” WABE said. “They will be choosing a candidate to fill the remainder of the term of the late John Lewis.”
Early voting in that race has been underway since late November.
According to the Fulton County voting website, if a voter is signed up for the “rollover” absentee voting list, “there are several reasons why you might not have received your absentee ballot.” The site does not explain what those reasons are. Instead it directs voters to the Fulton County Election Registration office.
The Georgia Star News called that office to ask why some voters might not receive an absentee ballot, even if that voter is on the “rollover” absentee list.
“I can’t talk to reporters. You have to talk to my communications department,” a man who identified himself as Ralph Jones said.
Jones directed The Star News to back to Waller for further explanation.
“Some ballots may still be in the mail meaning the ballot has been mailed, but not yet delivered,” Waller said by email. “If a voter calls the number provided by the website to inquire about his/her ballot, Elections will check the system to let them know when the ballot was mailed.”
Waller was part of the public relations team that spoke to the media about the “pipe burst” in State Farm Arena, where ballots were being counted on Election Day. The burst delayed the counting process for several hours, as ballot counters were sent home from the facility.
The Star News asked the Fulton County Elections Board and the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office whether there has been any internal communication within either organization about the procedures by which absentee ballots are sent, and by which signatures on those ballots are verified upon receipt.
Neither organization responded to that inquiry.
Democrat challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock square off against incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler on January 5.
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