December 30, 2020

By Andrea Young, December 30, 2020

In 2018, fewer than 6% of Georgia’s voters used the option of vote by mail, formally no-excuse absentee voting. In 2020, the option to vote by mail became an issue of life and health. The COVID-19 pandemic endangered our Seniors, front line workers and hit Black and Brown communities especially hard. How to protect the sacred right to vote, one of the most important rights and responsibilities of a citizen? How to protect access to the ballot for our Seniors, who built the culture, economy and nurtured the families of our beloved Georgia?

Fortunately, Georgia law provided for no excuse absentee voting. This provided a mechanism for registered voters to vote safely from home. Prior to the June primary, the Secretary of State send applications for an absentee ballot to active registered voters in the state, applications, not ballots. Voters were able to return these applications through the U.S. Post Office.

According to the Georgia Secretary of State, 1.1 million votes were cast by mail, nearly half the total votes cast. Nevertheless, the June Primary election saw long lines, poll worker shortages, reduced polling places on election day- a national embarrassment.

The civic culture of Georgia responded to the challenge of voting during a pandemic. For the November General Election, the ACLU of Georgia recruited more than nearly 3000 younger people to volunteer to work as poll workers in 17 counties across the state. Every polling location in Fulton County- from Johns Creek to South Fulton had a volunteer recruited by the ACLU of Georgia, Hands on Atlanta, the Metro Atlanta Chamber or other civic organization. The Atlanta Hawks provided the State Farm Arena for early voting. Religious organizations such as the Georgia Conference of the AME Church offered their facilities to county election boards to host voting sites.

The result—in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, 5 million Georgians exercised their sacred right as Americans- to vote, the largest number ever. According to the Secretary of State, more than 1.3 million Georgians, more than a quarter of all voters, availed themselves of the opportunity to vote by mail.

Georgia’s general election has been subjected to intense scrutiny- three recounts and an audit of absentee ballot signatures in Cobb County. The cost to Fulton County alone was reportedly more than $400,000. In every instance, the operation of the election was determined by the Secretary of State to be fair and accurate.

Georgia’s civic culture is strong and vibrant. After three recounts and an audit there can be no doubt that election officials and the ordinary citizens who work the polls and counted (and re-counted) 5 million votes were diligent and handled their responsibility with care and seriousness. Georgia’s election system works and vote by mail is a vital part of that system embraced by 1.3 million of our citizens. Vote by mail works in Georgia and access to mail in voting must be protected for all eligible voters.

Andrea Young, Executive Director, ACLU of Georgia