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Guest column: Loss of vote due to pandemic?
Guest columnist

By Rena Patton and Wendy Bolton.

Among the losses Bryan Countians and all Georgians face during this COVID-19 pandemic, may be an unexpected and perhaps unintended one. The loss of their vote.

Ordinarily, Georgia voters would have gone to the polls March 24 to choose their party’s nominee to go to either the Democratic or Republican National Convention. When entering the polling place a voter would have asked for either a Democratic or a Republican ballot. Only Democratic or Republican presidential candidates names appear on the ballot of the Presidential Preference Primary. Our state and local races, like the hotly contested Bryan County Sheriff’s race, are on a separate ballot presented at the Georgia Primary Election originally set for May 19.

But days after early voting began in the Presidential Preference Primary, the Georgia Secretary of State made the responsible decision to postpone the Presidential Primary until May 19. So the ballots of the early voters have since been securely held, uncounted, by Bryan County Registrar Cindy Reynolds.

Later, the Secretary of State also postponed the Georgia Primary Election (the election where we vote for our state and local candidates) to June 9 and declared it would be combined with the Presidential Preference Primary.

Herein lies the problem. In either the Presidential Preference Primary or the Georgia State Primary, voters must ask for either a Republican or Democratic ballot. Because Georgia holds open primaries and voters are not actually “registered” to any party, it is not in usual for a voter to ask for a Democratic ballot in the Presidential Preference Primary and then ask for a Republican ballot in the upcoming Georgia State Primary or vice versa. A voter who might have voted for a Democratic nominee in the Presidential Preference Primary might choose to vote for a Republican congressman or one of the five Republican Sheriff candidates in the Georgia primary. Voters who did not vote early in the Presidential Preference Primary before voting was halted have lost their right to vote across party lines on June 9.

Because the ballots from the presidential preference primary have been combined with local elections, it is not possible, according to the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, to vote for one party’s nominees in the local election and another party’s nominees in the national election.

According to Dennis Carbone, Bryan County’s Elections Liaison for the Secretary of State, “Unfortunately, due to the special circumstances at hand, there is no way to have separate ballots for the upcoming election.” He did not offer an explanation as to why “there was no way” to have separate ballots. Carbone added, “If you had been able to vote before the March 24 election was postponed, you would not have been given a combined ballot.”

If you were one of the 3,000 in Bryan County who voted early in the national primary, in which case your ballot has been stored and will be counted on June 9 with the rest of the ballots from the delayed primary, you will receive only a local (Georgia) primary ballot for the June 9 election. In other words, if you voted early, your choices are intact.

However, if you did not vote early before the polling places were closed by the virus, you will not be able to split your local from your national party vote. You will not have the same choices your neighbors who voted early have.

Because the Bryan County Sheriff’s election is hotly contested in the Republican primary, one might want to cast one’s ballot in that race. However, one might want to vote in the Democratic primary for one’s Presidential choice. But according to Carbone, there is no way to receive separate ballots for the June 9 election at this point.

Due to the stay-at-home directives from Governor Brian Kemp as well as President Donald Trump and the CDC, the Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has ordered a delayed primary vote until June 9, with early voting beginning in May. This change was to help protect voters and poll workers from close contact during the voting process.

Another issue that might affect voter turnout is that of the limitations on mailing of absentee ballots. Though there have been laudable attempts to alleviate the voting issues by mailing requests for absentee ballots to some voters, only those who have voted in the last two elections will receive this ballot request. The rest, who are eligible voters, must personally contact the Secretary of State’s office to request an absentee ballot.

According to the website for Bryan County Registrar Cindy Reynolds: absentee and early in-person votes previously submitted will counted as a part the June 9, 2020 election. Absentee ballot requests will continue to be accepted thorough June 5, 2020. Advance in-person voting for these newly rescheduled elections is projected to begin on May 18, 2020. The deadline to register to vote for these elections is May 11, 2020.

Patton and Bolton are Bryan County residents.

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