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Website allows voters to request mail-in ballots

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County elections office prepares for Nov. 3

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    The online portal to request an application for an absentee ballot can be reached at ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov. A Google search for Georgia absentee ballot portal also leads to the site. SCREENSHOT

Security to ensure that every vote is counted is at the forefront of preparations for the presidential election that is to take place in November.

Jones County voters have several options to cast their ballots in the Nov. 3 election. In addition to voting at precincts on Election Day, Early Voting begins at the Jones County Elections Office at the Government Center Oct. 13 and continues until Oct. 30. One Saturday voting day is scheduled Oct. 24.

Masks are encouraged for all in-person voting, and masks will be provided to anyone who does not have one.

The third way to vote is by mail. Georgia allows anyone to request an absentee ballot, with no reason required. That process takes two steps. The first is a request for an application to receive a ballot by mail. That request can be made by calling the Jones County Elections Office at 478-986-3222 or by emailing Jones County Board of Elections Registrar Sydney Higley at Sydney.higley@jonescountyga.or or Jones County Elections Superintendent Marion Hatton at Marion.hatton@jonescountyga.org.

The state has recently provided another option for the request of absentee ballots. Hatton said Jones County’s absentee portal is now open on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov.

The portal can also be found using a Google search for Georgia absentee ballot portal.

In a text sent Saturday afternoon, the superintendent said she had received 10 applications since Friday and that she is receiving the requests within minutes of the voters’ submission.

Each of the voting options requires the person wishing to vote being registered to vote. The last day to register to vote in the Nov. 3 Election is Oct. 5. Registration can be done at the Elections Office or voters can register online at the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, www.sos.ga.gov.

Registration forms can also be found in local offices such as Gray City Hall, and the Elections office will also mail the form upon request.

Hatton said the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office is not mailing absentee ballot applications to all registered voters as was done for the June 9 General Primary. She said that was a one-time occurrence because of the onset of the pandemic.

The superintendent did say it has come to her attention that there are at least two voter organizations that are mailing ballot applications to registered voters. She said, if an unsolicited ballot request is received, voters are under no obligation to use it, but the application will be honored if it is mailed.

Hatton said there are 24 different ballot styles for the Nov. 3 election because of combination of the number of federal and state elections to be decided. Ballots are different depending on where the voter lives.

“This is a general election. That means that candidates for all parties will be on the same ballot,” she said.

Hatton said Jones County needs more poll workers, and anyone wanting to volunteer can do so on the Secretary of State’s website. She said the lists of those who have signed up are sent to her weekly.

She said poll worker training would start in October.

“We plan to have more training for the new voting machines than we had for the June 9 election,” Hatton said.

The superintendent said completed mail-in ballots can be returned as soon as they are received. Those ballots can be mailed, placed in the secure ballot box outside of the Government Center or even delivered to the elections office by hand.

Hatton said the outside ballot box is under 24/7 video surveillance, and it is checked at least twice every day. She said, however the ballot is returned, the signature of the voter is matched, and then the ballot is stored in a locked ballot box.

The superintendent explained that, when a mail-in or absentee ballot is received by her office, it is recorded, and that voter is marked on the active voter list as having voted. That individual cannot vote again in this election.

She also emphasized the importance of not showing up to vote Nov. 3 if the voter received a ballot by mail. That mail ballot would have to be canceled before the voter would be allowed to vote in person.

Hatton said she has to be called to ok the mail ballot cancelation, which is a time-consuming process for poll workers and everyone waiting to vote at that precinct.

If a voter received a mail ballot and changed their mind, they can call the elections office prior to Election Day to go through the process to cancel the ballot.

The superintendent said 4,000 ballots were mailed to Jones County voters in the June election, and 3,000 were filled out and received by the elections office. That was at least four times the usual number for absentee ballots. Hatton said the delay experienced in the counting of those mail-in ballots has been addressed.

“We are prepared this time. We are going to start that process earlier,” she said.

The Secretary of State’s office allows mail-in ballots to be recorded several days before Election Day due to the number of ballots that are anticipated to be received. Hatton said the ballots would be run through an optical scanner at the appropriate time, but the results are not tabulated until after 7 p.m. Nov. 3.

“Everything about this process is transparent,” she said.

No one knows the results of mail-in ballots until votes are tabulated Nov. 3. The mail-in, also known as absentee ballot, results are usually tabulated along with the results of Early Voting. Neither is done until after in-person voting polls are closed and election officials are waiting for the voting results to be brought in from the precincts.

For more information about the election, call the Jones County Elections Office 478-986- 3222 or visit the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office website, www.sos.ga.gov.

Jones County Elections & Voter Registration also has a Facebook page.