U. S. District Judge Steve Jones in an injunction issued last week said “it is beyond dispute” that Georgia would violate the law with the state’s timeline for sending and receiving overseas absentee ballots for runoffs from the July 31 primary election. Runoff elections are scheduled for Aug. 21.
But here’s the kicker: the federal law plainly requires each state to “transmit a validly requested absentee ballot to an absent uniformed voter or overseas voter… not later than 45 days before the election. That would mean mailing those absentee ballots on July 7 — two weeks BEFORE the primary election.
So what was Georgia’s plan? It allowed three days after the runoff for receipt of absentee ballots on Aug. 24. Two methods were to be used: 1) listing the information on the secretary of state’s website, and 2) sending runoff absentee ballots via a voter’s preferred choice, electronic or mail.
“For those overseas voters who selected the mail delivery, there is a distinct possibility that they will be unable to vote in the runoff because they will not receive the candidate information until after the election,” Judge Jones wrote. He cited a finding that “on average it takes seven to 13 days to mail a ballot to Iraq,” not including the time for reaching a service man or woman in the field, and for some remote locations it could take up to 35 days for the mail to get there.
The judge ordered the state to extend the deadline for receipt of overseas ballots by seven days to Aug. 31, specifically for six congressional districts — 2, 3, 4, 9, 11 and 12 — in which there is the possibility of runoffs. However, the judge was complimentary to Georgia, saying the state “has made great strides and demonstrated an honest and meritorious effort to comply with federal law and ensure that overseas voters can effectively exercise their right to vote,” citing recent legislation and technological advances in voting resources.
Kemp promised to abide by the order but said “it would have been more responsible for the DOJ to have voiced their issues with Georgia’s system in any of the past three election cycles we have used this calendar rather than in a lawsuit weeks before our primary election.” He also said he would work with the governor, House speaker and Senate leaders “to prepare a legislative package that will continue our efforts to make sure Georgia has the most safe and accessible voting system in the nation.”
And, no doubt, to make absolutely certain the 45-day deadline for mailing absentee overseas ballots is observed in future elections.