News stories about mail-in voting and whether the U.S. Post Office can deliver mail-in ballots in time to be counted are disturbing. I feel compelled to clarify those issues as they apply to Newton County.
The most crucial pillar of our democracy is fair and free elections. I can assure you that principle is the touchstone for our board members, staff and volunteers who work diligently to insure that every registered voter can vote in the safest environment possible and that each vote is counted accurately.
As we plan for the Nov. 3 General Election, we are facing serious challenges, including the surging and persistent COVID-19 infection, a predicted record turnout and the ability of the postal system to handle the anticipated surge in absentee ballots in a timely manner.
Georgia’s system of mail-in absentee ballots is time tested and as secure as in person voting. To obtain an absentee ballot, a voter must complete an application. The signature on the application is confirmed by our staff against the voter registration card on file in our office. Only then will an absentee ballot be mailed to the voter.
When returning the absentee ballot, the voter must sign an oath on the outside ballot envelope, which is checked against the voter registration signature on record.
Once received, the absentee ballots are removed from the exterior envelope and the interior envelope and then scanned through the same type ballot reader used to count the in-person ballots.
The system is designed to safeguard against voter fraud, instances of which in history are rare to nonexistent. Having watched the system work, I have complete confidence in the process and the people who work the elections. You should too.
Voters have three options to vote, including absentee ballots. There will be three weeks of early voting in Newton County, including one Saturday. On Nov. 3 — Election Day — voters can cast their ballots from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at their assigned voting precinct. Anyone in line at the 7 p.m. poll closing will be allowed to vote.
Safe distancing will be maintained at the polls and hand sanitizer will be available for everyone. Masks will be strongly encouraged, but Gov. Brian Kemp’s most recent extension of rules specifically states that no mask mandate may be enforced at polling locations.
If you do not feel comfortable voting in-person because of COVID, apply for an absentee ballot. If you have questions regarding your registration or your voter status, go online to the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page, or call the Newton County Elections Office at 770-784-2055.
If you plan to vote by absentee ballot, apply as soon as possible and return your completed ballot to the Board of Election as early as you can. We have a drop box for ballots at the rear door of the Administration Building and over the next few days will be exploring additional drop boxes at remote locations around the County.
Finally, I want to assure you that the vote count in Newton County will not take weeks or months to complete and report. It is our plan to complete the count and publish it on the evening of Nov. 3.
I would urge each of you to remember that voting is not a Republican matter nor a Democratic matter. It is a patriotic matter. Whatever method you choose to cast your ballot, and whoever you choose to vote for, please vote. Voting is not only a right which untold men and women across two and a half centuries have died to insure, it is a civic duty and one that distinguishes this country from many around the world. It is your civic duty and you should cherish it.
Philip A. Johnson
Chair of the Newton County Board of Elections and Registrations