With Georgia’s historic Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoff election only a month away, over 100,000 Fulton County residents have already submitted applications for absentee ballots, the county’s top elections official said.
“107,091 applications have been received, 103,012 have been processed and 207 completed ballots have been received to date,” Richard Barron, Fulton’s director of elections and registration, said.
Barron spoke during an elections update at the county board of commissioners’ Dec. 2 meeting, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Senate runoff, where incumbent Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively, is expected to break records in terms of money spent on each candidate’s campaign, since either party’s control of the Senate hangs in the balance. Statewide, over a million absentee ballots could be cast partly due to residents’ fears of contracting the coronavirus if they vote in person after 1.3 million were cast in the Nov. 3 general election.
Barron said by 5 p.m. Dec. 2, Fulton was expected to complete its portion of the statewide machine-conducted recount, as requested by President Donald Trump since he lost the Georgia race by less than 0.5% of the vote. That recount came after a hand-tabulated statewide recount/audit in November.
Regarding Fulton’s part of the Dec. 1 special runoff election for the District 5 U.S. House and District 39 Georgia Senate seats, Barron said it went well except two Atlanta schools serving as poll locations – Bunche Middle and Fickett Elementary – were closed due to Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks there. So, the county used its two new mobile bus precincts on those sites instead.
Early voting in the Senate runoff, which also includes a Public Service Commission race, will take place Dec. 14 through 30, with the county providing 30 precincts, including mega sites State Farm Arena the first week and Mercedes-Benz Stadium the last week and a half.
District 6 Commissioner Joe Carn, who represents part of south Fulton, asked if that area’s Georgia International Convention Center would be used as a mega site for the runoff. When Barron said no, Carn urged him to add it.
District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann, who represents part of north Fulton, then asked that if south Fulton got a mega site, north Fulton should also, in the interest of fairness.
“We can see if we can get the Benson Center again,” Barron said of the facility used for early voting in the Nov. 3 election.
Hausmann also said she’s worried two members of the county’s registrations and elections board didn’t vote to certify the election in late November. She said one member made that decision because of concerns over the number of registered voters “being extremely high based on the population” and recent problems Fulton has had with the BlueCrest software it uses in elections.
In response regarding the BlueCrest issue, Barron said, “The signature verification piece of it is not operational right now. If that would have worked, about 30% of the ballot envelopes could have been verified through that unit, but we’re still working with the company to get that working. One thing we have to do is get a clean signature file from the state, so we’re making that request as well.”
Commissioners Bob Ellis (District 2) and Lee Morris (District 3) told Barron they were concerned voters have told them they were asked to select a Democratic, Republican or nonpartisan ballot by the state when applying for their absentee ballots online, even though the runoff is not a primary, has no party preference and shouldn’t require anyone to make that choice.
In response, Barron said, “I can let the state know. That’s their portal voters are using.”
Morris said he had another runoff-related concern.
“I got a postcard from the New Georgia Project urging my 96-year-old mother, who lives in Alabama, to vote.” New Georgia Project is one of three voter registration groups under investigation by the secretary of state’s office for encouraging out-of-state residents to vote in the runoff.