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Thanksgiving holiday causes slowdown in ballot mailings, election director says

Nov. 30—A reported delay in absentee ballot mailings for the Dec. 6 U.S. Senate runoff election was due to office closures for the Thanksgiving holiday, Cobb's elections chief said Wednesday.

Elections Director Janine Eveler said more than 3,400 ballots were affected by the delay, but have since been mailed to voters.

"Everything is out the door," she said.

Those ballots were originally marked as issued on Nov. 23, the day before Thanksgiving. Multiple state lawmakers told the MDJ they'd heard from constituents that their ballots — marked as issued in the state's ballot tracker — had still not been received as of earlier this week.

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In the case of the 3,442 ballots marked issued on the 23rd, Eveler said they were mailed out Monday because her office was closed on Thanksgiving Day and the day after.

"That's just how long the process takes with a two-day holiday," she added. "... It can take a couple of days to pack it and check it — usually about a day and a half. So then they get into the mail stream on the second day after the issue date."

Eveler said ballots have not necessarily been mailed when they are first marked as issued, which refers to when they are generated in the system.

"They assume that means that ballot was mailed that day, but that's not the mailing date. That's the date that the ballot was issued in the system," she said.

The reported delays sparked concerns the ballots were not mailed at all, as happened with more than 1,000 ballots in the weeks prior to the Nov. 6 general election. In that instance, Eveler initially said there was no evidence a significant number of ballots were missing, but days later announced the ballots had never been mailed.

State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, said he'd been tracking the ballot requests in the secretary of state's system, but it's too early to tell if there have been any errors. When the issue was made public before the general election, it was weeks after the ballots had supposedly been mailed.

"Nobody had returned them, so you could easily see that. The problem with this is if these were put into the system on Wednesday, and didn't go out until Monday, you're not going to see that yet," Wilkerson said. "... At this point, because it is so close, it's hard to tell, because it makes sense that people would not have returned them yet."

Cobb Democrats Chair Jacquelyn Bettadapur, meanwhile, said she remains skeptical.

"This happened before, and we were told everything was fine, and it wasn't," she said. "This is the same situation ... We heard from a lot of people that weren't necessarily in those two days (when ballots weren't mailed) for the general election, that they just never got ballots. Many folks just go to the polls because they don't have a ballot, but again, there are some who cannot just go to the polls, and they are deprived of their right to vote," Bettadapur said.

Cobb GOP Chair Salleigh Grubbs said she had also received reports of voters not receiving their ballots and was looking into the issue.

In this runoff election, the timeframe to request, receive and return ballots has been compressed. Georgia's runoff period was previously nine weeks, but was shortened to four weeks with the passage last year of SB 202, the law that overhauled Georgia's election system.

Monday was the last day to request an absentee ballot, and Eveler recommended earlier this week that voters cast a ballot in-person if possible.

"It's really rough to get everything out in time for people to get it back to us," she said on Monday, about absentee ballots.

All absentee ballots must be returned by the time the polls close at 7 p.m. on Dec. 6. Voters can check the status of their absentee ballot at mvp.sos.ga.gov.