Georgia: Here's How to Make Sure Your Vote Counts in the 2020 Election
What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.
Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the way you cast your ballot in the 2020 General Election may look a bit different than in elections past. And while of course you can mask up and still vote IRL as you would any other Election Day, many states are encouraging a mail-in route to help avoid coronavirus spread at the polls. Georgia happens to be one of them.
With November 3 sneaking up on us, there are plenty of deadlines and details you need to be aware of to ensure a stress-free and successful voting process. Here's everything you should know.
What's the deadline to register to vote in Georgia?
There are three ways to register to vote in Georgia -- online, by mail, or in person -- and all three options have the same deadline for the 2020 General Election: October 5. If you're submitting your registration via mail, it must be postmarked by the 5th, so make sure you get it in the mail as soon as possible.
Not sure if you're registered? You can check your status on the state's My Voter Page.
How to register to vote in Georgia
First thing's first -- you have to meet the state's requirements to be eligible to vote: You've got to be a citizen of the United States and a resident of Georgia and the county in which you're planning to vote. You also have to be 18 years-old by November 3 and within six months of registration. If you're serving a sentence for a felony conviction, or have been deemed mentally incompetent, you are also not allowed to vote in the state of Georgia.
Again, there are three ways to register, but the quickest, easiest, and safest is the register online route:
- Online: Head over to the state's Online Voter Registration site and click the button labeled "I Want to Register to Vote!" All you have to do after that is follow the instructions on each page of the digital form.
- By mail: If, for some reason, you're not going with the online option, you can still avoid registering in person by sending your voter registration form in the mail. Just download the registration form, complete it, and mail it to your county registrars' office or election office.
- In person: If you need to register in person, head to your county registrars' office. You can also hit up a public library, the public assistance office, recruitment office, schools, and other government offices as well. But, again, you can save yourself the time and trouble by just doing it all online.
Don't forget the deadline to register is October 5. Register ASAP and avoid stressing out over it at the last minute.
Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Georgia?
Thankfully, Georgia offers an early voting period. This means you can theoretically avoid the big crowds and lines that typically form at polling locations on Election Day by casting your ballot well ahead of time.
Early voting is available statewide from October 12 through October 30, meaning you can stop worrying about voting and go back to worrying about the outcome of the election -- all before Halloween. Better yet, you can vote at any early voting location in your county instead of having to vote at your assigned polling location, according to the state. Georgia's early voting location information tool will show you all the early voting locations in your county, along with their hours.
Check out the state's complete early voting guide for even more info.
Can I vote by mail?
Yep. Georgia allows voters to vote absentee by mail and you don't need a specific excuse in order to qualify for an absentee ballot. This is great news for anyone who's concerned about potential exposure to COVID-19 at busy polling places on Election Day. You can safely fill out your ballot at your kitchen table instead.
How to request an absentee ballot in Georgia
Like with registering to vote, there are three ways to do this:
- Online: Request an absentee ballot by submitting the state's official online form.
- By mail: Download the printable version of the absentee ballot application, fill it out, then mail it back to your local county board of registrar's office. If you want, you can also return your completed form via fax or email (as an attachment), according to the Secretary of State's absentee voting info page.
- In person: Contact your local county board of registrar's office for more info.
You can request an absentee ballot as early as 180 days before the election and as late as the end of the business day on October 30, according to the state's absentee voter guide. Absolutely do not wait that long. Request your ballot immediately. Like right this minute.
How to vote absentee in Georgia
Your absentee ballot will arrive in the mail at the address you specified on your request form.
Now comes the most important part: filling out your absentee ballot. Carefully follow the instructions. Completing your ballot incorrectly could result in it not being counted, according to the state. You don't want that to happen.
Finally, return your carefully completed absentee ballot in the envelopes it came with. You can send it back in the mail or you can drop it off at a drop-off location in your county (contact your county registrar for more info on that). If you're voting absentee via mail from within the country, your ballot must arrived at your county election office by Election Day, so get it in the mail as soon as you possibly can. If you're sending it from overseas, make sure it's postmarked no later than Election Day and make sure it arrives within three days of that.
Georgia.gov has a step-by-step guide to absentee voting in the state, so check that out too.
How can I make sure my absentee ballot is counted?
Head over to the My Voter Page and login to see if your absentee ballot has been accepted. The site will display the status of your ballot.
Other than that, it's a matter of following the instructions and meeting the deadlines. It's also a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your absentee ballot materials so that it's not thrown out on some sort of technicality.
How can I stay safe while voting in person?
Polling places are open statewide from 7am to 7pm, and if you're in line by the 7pm cutoff, you'll be allowed to vote, according to the state's Election Day in-person voting guide.
While voting by mail is likely the safest way to participate in this election, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters.
Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its official election guidance page:
- Wear a mask.
- Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
- Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
- If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again.
- Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first.
- Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
- Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
- Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it).
- If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.