As the Georgia Secretary of State pulls back support for voting by mail, the ACC Board of Elections is stepping up to ensure all Athenians will be able to cast their vote safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They’ll be assisted by the mayor and commission, who voted unanimously to approve up to $80,000 of additional funding to mail absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in Athens. These will be sent out around mid-September to voters’ registered addresses.
Do you need to update your voting address?
You may want to check your voting address to make sure the form is mailed to the right place. If an old address of yours is listed, you can change it by re-registering and marking the form as a “change of address.” You can also register to vote online in Georgia.
These applications will not, of course, be mailed out to anyone who has already requested an absentee ballot. If you plan to vote by mail, there’s no reason to wait — go ahead and ask for an absentee ballot now (see below). Doing so will mean less work for the Board of Elections and their hired help, it will save taxpayer dollars and you’ll probably receive your ballot sooner to boot.
How to request an absentee ballot:
1. Download the request form PDF.
2. Print the form and fill it out, or use Adobe Acrobat to fill it out digitally.
2a. You do not need to put your voter ID #. Alternatively, you can call the Board of Elections to find out what it is: 706-613-3150
3. Bring it by the Board of Elections office at 155 E. Washington Street or mail it to: Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections, P.O. Box 1828, Athens, GA 30603.
3a. If you filled it out digitally, you can email it back to email@example.com.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger sent out absentee ballot applications to almost seven million Georgia voters for the June 9 primary, but decided against doing so for the upcoming general election. Even so, the Georgia Senate couldn’t help but express their disapproval with Raffensperger’s absentee ballot experiment. Earlier this year, they passed a bill that would have banned the Secretary of State or any local Board of Elections from mailing out request forms in a rebuke of Raffensperger’s policies on voting by mail.
Raffensperger spoke out against this provision, which was included in Senate Bill 463, and defended his decision to mail out absentee ballots during the primary.
“What we are seeing today is the continued weaponization of election administration by both the left and the right. I call on both sides to stop trying to politicize election administration,” Raffensperger said. In this statement, he also attacked Democrats without evidence for “unlimited ballot harvesting.”
SB 463 did not pass the Georgia House, so it did not become law. However, due to uncertainty regarding the law and Raffensperger’s plans for the November election, the ACC Board of Elections’ budget did not originally include funding for the mailing of these request forms, which is why the budget had to be amended this week.
Athens’ Mask Mandate
The mayor and commission also passed a new version of their mask mandate this week. The update was needed after Governor Brian Kemp issued an executive order allowing the enforcement of local mandates under certain conditions.
As before, the commission’s new ordinance requires everyone in Athens to wear masks while in public with some exceptions, such as when eating, drinking or while keeping a proper social distance outdoors.
While being very similar to the previous ordinance, there are some significant differences this time around. For example, private businesses are now allowed to opt-out of mask enforcement, but to do so they must post a clearly-visible sign that masks are not required at their establishment. Otherwise, the mask ordinance is in effect by default and those not wearing masks could still be fined.
Even though businesses can now opt out, Commissioner Melissa Link doesn’t think many actually will. In fact, she feels some business owners may even be relieved that the local government can now support their own enforcement efforts again. For example, some national chains have had a mask mandate for months but local staff might be reluctant to enforce it, she said, because they “fear altercations” with customers.
Link and other commissioners called for aggressive enforcement of the mandate, particularly with UGA in the process of reopening. “It’s a matter of life and death,” Link said.
Commissioner Tim Denson agreed, citing a report from the UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases that warned between 210 and 1618 active COVID-19 cases may have come into Athens with the arrival of students on campus. The report estimates that every student and faculty member would have to be tested almost every week to ensure a reasonably safe environment.
That would be 6,181 tests a day. Currently, UGA is planning to perform only 300 tests a day.
“Campus-based interventions are unlikely to prevent an epidemic of COVID-19 within the campus community,” the report concluded.