If you are a citizen of Georgia who may not be able to visit a polling place on Election Day, you can vote with an absentee ballot. In my full-time job I travel frequently and so I commonly vote with an absentee ballot. I actually prefer to vote absentee because it helps me to avoid long lines at polling places.
You don’t have to be out of town to vote absentee. You can also get an absentee ballot if you are sick or if you are simply unable to find time to reach your poll. In fact, you do not have to list a reason why you are voting absentee.
To obtain an absentee ballot, contact your county registrar and request an application. You may do this within 180 days of an election. Military and overseas voters are an exception to the 180 day rule. They may request an application at any time. You may also download an absentee ballot application from the website of the Secretary of State here: http://www.sos.ga.gov/elections/quick_access.htm
After you have received your absentee ballot, return it to your county registrar. Both faxed and mail copies are accepted. The link to the Secretary of State’s website above also provides contact information for county registrars. The registrar must receive your application no later than the Friday prior to the election. As an alternative, you may also visit the office of the registrar to vote absentee in person before Election Day.
When your application is received and approved, the registrar will mail your absentee ballot to you. You simply complete the form that affirms your identity, fill out the ballot, and return it through the mail. If you are unable to fill out the ballot yourself, it is legal to have someone assist you.
There are several pros and cons to voting absentee. The pros include not having to schedule a visit to the polling place on Election Day and not having to deal with long lines (except at the post office). Also, ballots can often be long and complicated with some of the races and ballot initiatives being very obscure. With an absentee ballot, you can research these little known races and initiatives rather than having to make a split second decision in a voting booth. Finally, if you submit an absentee ballot application, you are exempted from Georgia’s voter ID law.
There are a few problems with absentee voting as well. One problem is the relative inefficiency of the mail. I always am a little concerned over the possibility of my ballot getting lost or arriving too late to be counted. The bigger issue is that if you submit your ballot early, you lose the ability to change your mind about a candidate if new information comes out just before the election. After your ballot is mailed, you have voted and you cannot retract that vote.
An additional alternative to absentee voting is early voting. Now in Georgia, polls are open for several days prior to the actual Election Day. Early voting combines many of the aspects of absentee voting while eliminating the trips to the post office. Typically, early voters go to the registrar’s office and vote on an actual voting machine rather than a paper ballot. To find out when and where to vote early, contact your county registrar.
Absentee and early voting provide a great alternative to going out of your way to stand in a long line on Election Day. If you are interested in voting early or absentee, start by registering now. Then be sure to request your absentee ballot within 180 days of the election. Do your research and mail your ballot back in plenty of time. Congratulations on becoming an informed and active citizen!