Gwinnett County’s nearly 600,000 voters will have to wait two more weeks to find out if the county will send them mail-in ballot applications for this fall’s general election.
A proposal to send out the applications, as well as pay an estimated $516,000 to cover of postage for return envelopes for the ballots, had been on the commission’s agenda for Tuesday. Instead of making a decision on it, however, the county’s leaders delayed voting on the items until their Sept. 1 meeting.
“Based on things we heard earlier from our elections staff, I think we’ve got some unanswered questions that we need answers to before we act on this, so I’ll make a motion that we table this item until Sept. 1,” Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said.
Mail-in ballots has been a major topic of debate this year with President Donald Trump criticizing them — while simultaneously endorsing absentee ballots, which are the same as mail-in ballots. Recent controversies involving plans to remove equipment from post offices have also kept mail-in ballots in the spotlight.
United States Postal Service officials announced Tuesday that they are postponing plans to remove the equipment until after this fall’s highly contested presidential election.
Because of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus disease pandemic, state officials sent out applications to all registered voters in Georgia ahead of the state primary election, which was held in June. That resulted in thousands more voters than normal casting ballots by mail in that election.
Since the pandemic is still ongoing, and presidential elections traditionally drive high voter turnouts, elections officials have been anticipating a high number of mail-in ballots being requested for the general election on Nov. 3 as well.
“An increased Absentee/Advance by Mail participation is expected,” Gwinnett elections board chairman John Mangano said in a July 24 letter to county commissioners. “Voting by mail offers voters a secure and contactless option for voting during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The county had 569,415 registered voters as of July 1. Two cost estimates for mailing the applications were made based on an estimate that there could be 610,000 registered voters for the general election.
“The Election Supervisor provided cost estimates for two options from contracted vendor Sure Bill Envelopes and Forms,” Mangano said in a separate July 24 letter to commissioners. “The cost estimates cover printing, sorting, postage, and mailing but they do not include data processing of the necessary files. The first option, using a No. 10 carrier envelope, has an estimated cost of $322,690. The second option, using a 6 inch by 9-and-a-half-inch envelope, has an estimated cost of $347,090.”
In addition to the presidential election, the general election ballot will include races for congress, U.S. Senate, state legislative seats, county offices, an education special purpose local option sales tax and a referendum on a tax to fund transit expansion in Gwinnett.
The county’s elections board members voted 4-1 in June to request the applications and postage for the general election.
“Staff are required to mail ballots to voters no earlier than 49 days and no later than 45 days prior to the election,” Mangano wrote in one of his letters to county commissioners. “Those upcoming dates are Sept. 15 and Sept. 19.”
The postage for the return envelops for the ballots is expected to be covered by federal CARES Act funds.
“Secure drop boxes are located throughout the county.
“If a voter uses one of the boxes, postage is not necessary,” Mangano said in a letter about postage. “If returning a ballot through the United States Postal Service, postage is required.”