Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger answers questions about the state's new voting system at an Atlanta Press Club event on Feb. 24.

ATLANTA — To encourage absentee ballot voting amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said his office will mail absentee ballot request applications to every Georgia voter ahead of the May primary.

Applications will be mailed to the state's nearly 6.9 million active registered voters for the May 19 primary election in an effort to ensure all who want to vote can "without fear for their health."

“Times of turbulence and upheaval like the one we Georgians face require decisive action if the liberties we hold so dear are to be preserved,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “I am acting today because the people of Georgia, from the earliest settlers to heroes like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Congressman John Lewis, have fought too long and too hard for their right to vote to have it curtailed. Georgia has faced challenges before and overcome them, and we can do so again through the grit and ingenuity that has made America a shining example for democracies around the world.”

In the 2016 and 2018 November elections, according to the secretary of state's office, almost 95% of Georgia voters cast their ballot in person while only 5% chose to cast their vote by mail. But with a global call for social distancing to prevent the spread of coronavirus that number is expected to increase.

The office estimated it will cost the state and taxpayers around $13 million to mail out the absentee ballot forms and subsequent ballots.

The decision has bipartisan support. State Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, commended Raffensperger on his effort to reach Georgia voters in their home.

“This global health emergency showcases exactly why we must embrace solutions that ensure every voter can cast their ballot and have their vote counted without risking their health or that of their loved ones,” Williams said. "...There is still significant work to be done to truly protect the right to vote in Georgia for each and every election, including the 2020 general election, and the Democratic Party of Georgia will continue to advocate for the policy changes needed to expand and protect the franchise on behalf of Georgia voters.”

Raffensperger announced earlier this month all voting in the presidential preference primary would be suspended and the contest would be held on the same ballot with primary elections in May. With the average age of a poll worker being 70 years old, local elections officials began seeing poll workers quit out of fear of contracting coronavirus.

Raffensperger said his office will work to help local elections offices recruit younger poll workers.

"With social distancing as the most important tool for limiting the spread of coronavirus" Raffensperger said in a release, "providing alternatives to voting in person is crucial."

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