Georgia Elections Update

April 3, 2020

Pardon Our Dust

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Exercising emergency powers, Georgia Secretary of State and Elections Chief Brad Raffensperger delayed the General Presidential Preference Primary to May 19 from its original March 24 date. The new date, May 19, coincides with the state’s previously-scheduled General Election Primary.  His office mailed 6.9 million absentee ballot request forms to registered Georgia voters at an estimated cost of $10 million in anticipation of potential low in-person turnout.

However, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) has requested both primaries be pushed back to June 16. He has expressed concern for at-risk older poll workers, as well as giving “more time for testing, health responses and other precautions.”

In response to Ralston’s request, Raffensperger expressed concern that he lacks the authority to move the Presidential Preference Primary because current law only allows the Secretary of State a 45 day elections delay if the Governor declares a state of emergency.  He believes legislative action or a Governor’s executive order is necessary for any additional delay.

The Speaker has argued that the subsequent and overlapping federal emergency declaration grants Raffensperger the authority to move the election again.  Dubious of Raffensperger’s concerns, Ralston sought legislative counsel’s opinion, which stated that an election can be postponed multiple times if (a) the Governor declares a state of emergency/disaster, OR (b) a federal agency declares a state of emergency/disaster. Accordingly, Ralston contends that because the President’s executive order has no expiration date, Georgia’s Secretary of State can move the election.

Georgia’s 11 Republican members of Congress also submitted a request to postpone the election “to the latest date possible.” Their major concerns were also for older poll workers, as well as the cost of the sanitation process for precincts across the state.  The delegation expressed that: “The right to vote is a fundamental right that should be guaranteed to each and every eligible Georgia citizen… Georgia voters should not be asked to choose between exercising that right and following the guidance of federal, state and local officials to keep themselves, their families and our communities healthy.”

Raffensperger has agreed that if social distancing orders are still in place, finding the minimum 8,000 poll workers needed to staff 2,600 precincts across the state will be difficult. However, his final declaration on the matter states, “I execute elections, I don’t create them.”  Accordingly, he said he will defer to the Governor and the General Assembly on the ultimate election date.  When confronted with the subject of postponing the elections, Governor Kemp made no comment to the question at his Wednesday, April 1 press conference. Since then, Governor Kemp has expressed his beliefs that Raffensperger does have the right to make the decision to move the election. As of now, the election still stands to take place on May 19th.

For a complete look at federal and state action related to the coronavirus, visit MWC’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Facts and Resources website.