(TNS) — State set to shift voting status for many, but they can still cast ballots

They will still be able to vote in November’s presidential election — we can’t stress that enough — but tens of thousands of Georgians could soon be shifted to inactive voter status.

That’s because absentee ballot applications that were mailed to them in the spring could not be delivered. Again, those voters will be able to cast ballots in November, but unless they make some contact with their county election officials, they will be one step closer to seeing their registrations canceled.

It all started back in April when Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, concerned about the prospect of voters flooding poll sites in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, sent absentee ballot request forms to Georgia’s 6.9 million active voters ahead of the state’s June 9 primary. After some ballot requests could not be delivered — possibly because their intended recipients had moved, their mailing addresses on record were incorrect or the U.S. Postal Service made a mistake — county election offices sent letters to those voters in July to the same addresses that may have been incorrect.

So, how many voters are we talking about?

The secretary of state’s office said this past week that it didn’t know because some election offices have yet to provide information about undeliverable mail. But to give you some sense of scale, Gwinnett County by itself sent letters to over 20,000 voters.

Voters who respond to the letters within 40 days will retain their active status.

If voters don’t respond, election officials say, that’s a strong indication that they no longer live at their registered addresses and they should only be allowed to vote where they currently live.

Voters are regularly moved to inactive status — which, again, does not prevent them from casting ballots — because the state is required to maintain accurate voter lists. They might be deemed inactive if they complete a change-of-address form, or they don’t contact election officials or vote for five years.

Once voters are declared inactive, they face cancellation of their registrations if they miss the next two federal general elections.

The timing troubles the Democratic Party of Georgia, which recently warned the secretary of state’s office that shifting voters’ status so soon before a presidential election may be in violation of federal voting laws. The National Voter Registration Act requires states to complete any program with the purpose of systemically canceling voter registrations at least 90 days before a federal election, and the Nov. 3 presidential election is now less than 80 days away.

“It may make you believe you’re no longer eligible to vote in the presidential election,” said Matt Weiss, an attorney for the Democratic Party. “Why does this need to happen right now, before a major federal election? Anything that’s going to increase confusion among voters should be avoided.”

To check your voter registration, go to the My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov. New voters can register to vote for the presidential election until Oct. 5.

Ballot will reflect the power of incumbency

Republicans, thanks to a federal judge’s ruling, will continue to top the lists of candidates for each office on this year’s general election ballot. Under state law, it’s a perk that belongs to the party of the seated governor.

How big a deal is that?

Expert witnesses in the case, whose plaintiffs included the Democratic National Committee, told the court that Republicans received a 4.2 percentage point advantage, on average, from being listed first on the ballot in Georgia elections since 2004. By contrast, the margin of victory in Georgia’s 2018 race for governor between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams was less than 1.5 percentage points.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg ruled Thursday that she was bound to uphold the law by an April decision from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a similar ballot order case from Florida.

So whose idea was this law? Democrats.

In Georgia, the governor’s political party has been listed first on ballots since 1964, when Democratic Gov. Carl Sanders was in office.

More Drop Boxes Coming for Absentee Ballots

More drop boxes are on the way to collect absentee ballots before November’s election.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced that county governments can apply for grants worth up to $3,000 to offset up to 75 percent of the cost for the purchase and installation of the boxes.

The boxes provide voters a way to return their absentee ballots without having to rely on the U.S. Postal Service, which has warned of potential delivery delays. Georgia law requires absentee ballots to be received by election officials before polls close on Nov. 3, although that deadline is being challenged in federal court.

The State Election Board approved a rule in April requiring that the boxes be located on government property and monitored by video cameras for security. They also must be securely fastened and built with a slot that prevents ballot tampering, damage or removal.

A first round of grants ahead of the state’s June 9 primary was used to install 144 boxes across the state, including more than three dozen in metro Atlanta’s four largest counties: Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett.

But 61 of Georgia’s 159 counties hadn’t installed any drop boxes as of last month, according to court filings. The only options for residents in those counties were returning their absentee ballots by mail or in person at local election offices.

Candidates in 14th Make Financial Moves

Marjorie Taylor Greene, the QAnon enthusiast and GOP nominee in the 14th Congressional District, has formed a political committee to raise money that she can use for certain campaign expenses and make donations to like-minded candidates or the Republican Party. The Save America Stop Socialism PAC bears the name of Greene’s campaign slogan.

This leadership PAC is different than Greene’s official campaign committee, Greene for Congress. The SASS PAC has not yet reported any fundraising or expenditures.

Greene’s Democratic opponent, Kevin Van Ausdal, also made some news concerning campaign finances, reporting that he raised $38,000 over three days following Greene’s runoff win. The funds mostly came as small-dollar donations that averaged $40.

That’s a big haul for him, but it doesn’t stand up well against Greene’s financial resources. During the GOP primary and runoff, she loaned her campaign $900,000.

Seeking Legislative Cures to COVID-19

State Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, is working on legislation he plans to introduce in January aimed at various aspects of life in the time of the coronavirus.

“For virtual learning,” The Gwinnett Post reported, “Efstration’s plan includes help for parents who work but don’t feel safe sending their children back to class yet. It would entail the state providing safe socially distanced daytime locations for children to do virtual learning.

Efstration’s plan would also make testing for the virus available to Georgians for free and provide results the same day the test is given.

The Post also reported that Efstration wants to create a state certification program for businesses, so customers would know those companies “comply with recommended COVID-19 guidelines and can verify if a business is safe to visit.”

Georgia GOP names delegation to Republican National Convention

Georgia Republicans have picked the team they will send to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the party’s national convention.

Making the trip up I-85 will be state GOP Chairman David Shafer, GOP Finance Chair Shawn Still, National Committeeman Jason Thompson, National Committeewoman Ginger Howard, former National Committeeman Alec Poitevint and ex-state Sen. Josh McKoon.

Candidate gets 71 percent of vote, but Kemp has final say

Tommy J. Smith won an election in June for a spot on the superior court for the Middle Judicial Circuit with support from 71 percent of the 22,302 voters who cast ballots in five counties. It meant nothing.

He then won election to the same seat on the bench in a 1-0 vote.

That lone voter? Gov. Brian Kemp.

The governor is allowed to cancel an upcoming election or discard its results, according to a state Supreme Court ruling in May, if a judicial seat has been vacated at any point.

That happened when Judge Kathy Palmer resigned in April to qualify to run for a state Senate seat, even though Smith and Tobe Karrh had qualified to run for Palmer’s post in March.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told The Daily Report that lawyers in the office had determined that “the election should have been canceled.”

“As it stands,” the spokesman said, “the election was a nullity.”

That gave Kemp the opportunity to appoint someone to fill the opening on the court. Kemp picked Smith, but he could have chosen anybody.

For Smith, the difference can be measured in years. If the June election, the one with 22,302 voters, had been allowed to stand, Smith would be preparing to serve a full four-year term. As an appointee, he will be up for election again in 2022.

Candidates, Endorsements, Etc.:

— U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, running in November’s special election for the seat the Republican gained through appointment, will start a statewide tour in the coming week, and she will have some big names as traveling companions. U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina will appear with Loeffler at a stop Aug. 28 in Cobb County. Then on Sept. 3, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas will join Loeffler on a swing through North Georgia.

— U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the former Democratic vice presidential contender, has endorsed Jon Ossoff’s campaign against Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Kaine also sized up Democrats’ chances of flipping Georgia after years of Republican dominance. “When I look at Georgia,” he said, “I see what Virginia looked like just a few years ago.” Virginia now has a Democratic governor, two Democratic U.S. senators and a Democratic Legislature.

— TogetherFund, a political committee created by former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who was briefly a presidential candidate, has endorsed fellow Democrats Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock in their respective U.S. Senate races.

— Cobb County’s Fraternal Order of Police lodge is seeking change, backing the Democratic nominee for sheriff, Cobb Police Maj. Craig Owens, over the Republican incumbent, Neil Warren, according to The Marietta Daily Journal.

©2020 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.