Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp speaks to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County Wednesday. He gave an update of several inititives in his department to improve services and the upcoming elections in 2012. Staff Photo: Jay Jones.
CONYERS — Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp visited Conyers on Wednesday and touted his office’s efforts to provide ballots electronically to military personnel overseas and also countered criticism of the move to cut in-person early voting from 45 to 15 days prior to election days.
Kemp spoke to the Rotary Club of Rockdale County and gave an overview of his department’s work on elections, as well as regulating corporations and fiscal responsibility. He spoke highly of Georgia’s ability next year to provide absentee ballots to all service men and women overseas as part of the federal Military Overseas Voting Empowering (MOVE) Act that was passed by Congress in 2009.
Georgia was one of the first states to implement a MOVE program last year. Georgia service men and women can now receive an absentee ballot 45 days before an election by email. Kemp explained the person overseas can register at the Secretary of State’s My Voter Web page to receive an email notification. The information is then logged into the website to generate a ballot for their home county. The person can then print out the ballot, fill it in and mail it to Georgia.
“As you can imagine us trying to mail an absentee ballot to some person in the Navy who’s on a boat in the middle of the ocean, (or someone in) the Middle East, in Iraq or Afghanistan, have them receive that ballot in the mail, (and then) turn around and mail it back in a 45-day, or less, time period. It is really hard to do,” he said. “We don’t feel like there should be one vote lost by men and women in the service because of slow mail service.”
Kemp responded to a question that a pilot program is being considered to offer the same electronic ballot service to elderly and physically disabled residents.
New to the 2012 elections is a reduction of the early, in-person voting period from 45 to 15 days. Kemp deflected criticism that reducing the number of days possibly disenfranchised voters. He noted that any registered voter can request an absentee ballot and vote by mail 45 days before an election.
Kemp said the call to shorten early in-person voting came from the counties facing cost concerns.
“The counties, really all across the state, were really squalling at us about the cost because they are mandated to have three people in the early voting locations,” he said. “Eighty-two to 83 percent of all people vote during the last two weeks of early voting and very few people come in during the first three weeks.”
Kemp said he’s warned local Board of Elections staffs across the state to expect 15 to 20 percent more people voting in person during the early voting period of next year’s elections and be prepared with extra voting machines.
Kemp also discussed Georgia’s Presidential Preference Primary move to March 6 from the first Tuesday in February. Thanks to legislation passed in the General Assembly this year this was the first time the Secretary of State selected the primary date.
Kemp said the move should garner some attention from presidential candidates and provide an opportunity for discussion of issues that are of interest to Georgia.
Historically, the first Tuesday in March is called Super Tuesday due to the large number of states holding presidential primaries. Twenty-four states held primaries on the date in 2008.
In 2012, Kemp said Georgia is in a good position. Texas is likely to go with Gov. Rick Perry. Take out Democratic strongholds California, New York and Massachusetts due to President Barrack Obama seeking re-election and the field is narrowed to 11 states holding primaries, and Georgia is the largest and has the most Republican delegates at stake, Kemp said.
“I really feel good about Georgia being in a strong position to actually have candidates come to our state and campaign,” he said. “In years past, we have not had that. We’ve been kind of disregarded.”