Oconee County Prepares for Increase in Absentee Voting

Absentee voting has always been a practical means of voting in statewide elections. Now, in 2020, it’s essential.

Claire Vogel will be one Oconee County resident voting through an absentee ballot in the November general election. Vogel, a third-year student at the University of Michigan, will send in her absentee ballot for the general election just like she did in the June primaries. She said she was confident in the handling of her ballot.

“I got confirmation when they got my absentee ballot, so that was really all I needed,” Vogel said. “I wasn’t nervous that it would be counted.”

Despite her confidence in the county’s ability to handle the mass amounts of ballots, she couldn’t say the same at the national level.

“I do have concerns about, you know, maybe certain areas being targeted for slowing down voting,” Vogel said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed absentee voting to the forefront of the 2020 election cycle, and it will likely become a more popular option this year.

Members of the Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration have been hard at work to ensure the accessibility and reliability of absentee ballots this November through a number of measures, according to Assistant Director and Absentee Clerk Jennifer Stone.

Stone said the county is doing everything it can to make voters aware of where to apply for an absentee ballot, where to mail it, and the deadline to mail ballots in. The Oconee County government posted information regarding absentee voting in late August, including links to register for voting and applying for an absentee ballot. 

Oconee County voters can visit the county’s website for information about absentee ballots. (Photo Courtesy/Oconee County website)

Also, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced, in August, a new online portal where voters statewide can apply for absentee ballots completely online. Voters only need to enter their first and last name, date of birth, the county in which they’re registered to vote, and their Georgia driver’s license number.

Additional measures taken by the county include checking the P.O. Box outside its office daily for ballots and preparing for in-person voting, should voters choose to exercise that option. Though the county can’t enforce mask requirements at polling locations due to an executive order signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in August, it will still allow voters to socially distance and will provide PPE and disinfectant to keep polling locations safe.

“There will be hand sanitizer there, there will be styluses for the voters to use, and those will be cleaned after every person uses on,e and they’ll use that to sign the poll pass and to vote on the machines,” Stone said.

In a meeting on Sept. 1, the board finalized polling place changes, including a change from Athens Academy to Nations Church in Oconee County. According to Stone, the change was made to better accommodate voters in the area.

Stone said the county is preparing for the number of absentee ballots coming in this upcoming November, but also noted that the county received more than 9,000 absentee ballots in the presidential primaries in June.

Some might see voting through an absentee ballot as a secondary method of voting, but recent data says otherwise. According to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, there were 16 states in the 2016 general election that received more than 50% of votes through mail-in, absentee or early voting. Georgia ranked 7th of the 16 states with more than 2.4 million absentee votes out of 4.1 million total votes, approximately.

Trey Hood, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, affirmed that voters should not be afraid of voter fraud in November.

“We should always be on the lookout and on the guard against voter fraud and implementing methods to try to prevent that,” Hood said. “Thankfully, voter fraud is a fairly rare problem.”

Alexander Merritt is a senior majoring in journalism at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.



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