[Image via fultoncounty.gov]

Fulton County (Atlanta), GA’s elections office reversed itself yesterday after it came under scrutiny from advocates and the Secretary of State’s office for failing to accept absentee ballot requests via email. AJC.com has more:

Election officials in Fulton County on Tuesday resumed accepting absentee ballot requests submitted by email, backtracking from a decision to require absentee applications by mail, fax or in person.

The county’s reversal came quickly after complaints that its refusal to process emailed ballot requests would reduce voting access and violate Georgia voting laws.

Fulton, the most populous county in the state, initially rejected emailed absentee ballot requests following struggles to manage a flood of applications before the June 9 primary election. Many voters in Fulton said they never received their absentee ballots, forcing them to wait in line for hours to vote in person during the coronavirus pandemic.

Voters who emailed absentee ballot requests Monday and part of Tuesday received a response from Fulton asking them to instead send paper applications by mail.

Under the revised policy, the county will accept e-mail requests if they comply with some restrictions intended to ease processing – a step which the county says was always in the works:

The county on Tuesday restarted processing absentee ballot requests for the Aug. 11 runoff, with some limits meant to avoid problems that surfaced before the primary.

Only one absentee ballot application may be attached to each email. Absentee ballot applications submitted by email must be less than 5 megabytes in size, legible and in pdf or jpg file format.

“We briefly paused in acceptance of email applications as we identified specific parameters in file format to ensure that we could process applications successfully,” county spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt-Dominguez said.

The e-mail application controversy is just Fulton’s latest dispute with the Secretary of State’s office, which was very critical of the county’s stance:

Fulton election officials only reversed course after the secretary of state’s office told them their actions were illegal, said Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs. The secretary of state’s office has said 70% of problems during the primary were concentrated in Fulton.

“Other counties do not have this level of issues with required tasks, but Fulton always seems to have an excuse as to why they can’t do what every other Georgia county can when it comes to elections,” Fuchs said Tuesday.

There is also concern that e-mail issues may have contributed to some Fulton voters not receiving ballots in the recent primary:

It’s unknown how many absentee ballots Fulton failed to send to voters before the primary.

In some cases, the county’s elections office overlooked voters’ emails with more than one absentee ballot application attached. Voters said at the polls on election day they couldn’t find any indication that their emailed ballot requests were ever processed.

Still, over 93,000 absentee ballots were successfully cast in Fulton, the third-most in the state, behind Cobb and DeKalb counties.

Both local and state officials are working on a web-based absentee ballot request system, which will alleviate these problems:

Fulton is reviewing additional technology options for accepting absentee ballot applications, Corbitt-Dominguez said. The county’s elections task force last week recommended the creation of a website for absentee applications.

The secretary of state’s office is already creating a website where voters will be able to request absentee ballots. The state’s website will go live in advance of the November presidential election.

Georgia law allows voters to submit requests for absentee ballots by mail, fax, electronic transmission or in person. The secretary of state’s website also states that absentee ballot applications can be returned by email.

Hopefully the policy change, and the development of the web-based system, will ensure that Fulton voters can request absentee ballots online without incident in November. Many states have moved to such a system, which eliminates the need for paper forms and the mail, and will likely see record numbers of applications via that method  due to the coronavirus. In any event, here’s hoping Fulton County can put its (very difficult) recent experience behind it and be on its game for elections this fall. Stay tuned…