With the coronavirus pandemic still looming and early voting scheduled to start next month, election officials are encouraging residents to take advantage of absentee ballots.
The state sent out absentee ballot request forms earlier this month, but if residents didn’t get one they can contact the White County Voter Registrar Office at 706-865-7812.
There are a lot of items on the June 9 ballot, from the Presidential Preference Primary to local elections. Voters will also be able to cast their ballot on the White County School System ESPLOST referendum. Sample ballots, along with voter registration status, can be found at mvp.sos.ga.gov, said Lisa Manning, White County chief registrar.
"The packet includes the ballot, instructions, a white piece of paper that the voter should fold around the ballot and the return envelope," Maning said.
Absentee by mail ballots can either be returned via mail or at a drop box at the voter registration office (1241 Helen Highway, Suite 210-A, in Clevleand). Voters can also drop off their absentee ballot applications and voter registration, Manning said. The drop box is monitored by video surveillance.
For those who requested absentee ballots, Manning said the state began mailing out the ballots last week, so voters should be receiving their ballots soon. However, if a voter gets an absentee by mail ballot, but then decides they want to vote in person, they will need to bring the absentee ballot with them when they vote to have in canceled before they can cast their ballot in person.
White County Election Superintendent Garrison Baker said residents are encouraged to vote through the absentee by mail ballot amid lingering COVID-19 concerns.
“It’s just the safest way for voters to be able to vote without compromising their safety,” Baker said.
For those that decide to vote in person, Baker said they are taking precautions to protect poll workers and voters.
“We’ve got the PPE (personal protective equipment) for poll workers, hand sanitizers, things to use to clean the equipment [and more],” Baker said. “All that we’re going to be providing to voters is hand sanitizers at the entrance and exit at the end of the polls.”
If voters want to use a mask and gloves, they will have to bring their own, Baker said. He added that staff will be sanitizing the machines and asks that voters not try to clean the machines themselves.
“We can’t allow voters to bring their own sanitizing equipment,” he said. “We’ll be doing the sanitizing, and we won’t allow individual voters to sanitize.”
Sanitation isn’t the only reason touted for voting absentee by mail. Baker noted that because there are a lot of items on the ballot, there could be a bit of a wait to vote.
Items on the ballot include federal, state and county races. The Presidential Primary will also be listed for voters who did not get to cast a ballot when the primary was postponed on March 14. Votes in the Presidential Preference Primary done prior to the postponement will still be counted.
The deadline to register to vote is Monday, May 11. Early voting will begin Monday, May 18 and will be until Friday, June 5. There will be Saturday voting on Saturday, May 30, for the county, state and federal elections. Election Day is Tuesday, June 9. Manning said that staff will be following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and are encouraging voters to wear masks and gloves when they come vote.
Also slated for June 9 are Cleveland’s special elections for mayor and the Ward 2 city council seat. This is a separate election for city residents only. Those wishing to request an absentee by mail ballot can contact Cleveland City Hall at 706-865-2017 for more information. According to Cleveland City Clerk Connie Tracas, if residents want to early vote by mail, and have not voted in the mayor race, they will receive two separate ballots in different envelopes. If residents have already voted for mayor and are voting by mail, then they will only receive the Ward 2 ballot.
Early voting for the Cleveland City elections will be the same as the county, May 18 – June 5, except for Memorial Day (May 25) when there will be no voting, and no Saturday voting. Early voting takes place at Cleveland City Hall, and due to limited space and social distancing, the number of people allowed inside at one time will be limited, Tracas said. Voting on Election Day for Cleveland residents will be held at First Baptist Church.