ATLANTA (AP) — A top Georgia Republican is pushing for more delays in state elections because of the threat of COVID-19 and how it might suppress turnout.
House Speaker David Ralston wrote a letter Thursday to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow member of the GOP, urging that the state's May 19 primary elections be delayed until at least June 23.
“Pushing the primary back a month or more gives us more time to allow the situation to improve so that voters can vote in the manner in which they are most familiar,” Ralston wrote. "More importantly, it would make our highest priority the health and safety not only of voters, but our hard-working poll workers and elections officials.
Raffensperger's office and state Democratic Party spokeswoman Maggie Chambers declined comment. State Republican Party Chairman David Shafer didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.
It could be illegal, though, to shift the state's Democratic presidential primary for a second time, after it was already delayed from Tuesday of this week until May 19. Raffensperger only has legal authority to delay an election for 45 days. He said the first delay meets that rule because early voting will resume in late April.
Georgians were already scheduled to go to the polls May 19 to choose party nominees for one U.S. senator's post, U.S. House members and members of the state House and Senate. Elections for judges and district attorneys are also set for that day.
Pushing back the Democratic presidential primary into June could also mean that Georgia Democrats could lose half their delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which is set for July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee. Party rules say primaries must be held by June 9 and that delegates must be named by June 20, or else states are penalized.
DNC officials have said they are watching the process and are aware of the extenuating circumstances, but have said that, under current rules, states that are tardy will have to seek waivers. Democrats are exploring contingencies for their convention if virus transmission remains a concern, but haven't detailed any options yet.
On Tuesday, Raffensperger announced Georgia election officials would mail a form that can be used to request an absentee ballot to all 6.9 million active registered voters in the state for the May election. He also encouraged as many people as possible to vote absentee by mail.
Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said the state estimates the program will cost roughly $10 million.
Ballot applications won’t be mailed to nearly 370,000 voters who are registered but have been deemed inactive by the state. Registrations are deemed inactive when a person hasn’t had contact with the voting system for a period of years and has not responded to mail from election officials.
Raffensperger said in-person voting will still be available for those who need it or want it for the May election, and his office is instructing county officials to take precautions at polling places to limit the spread of the virus.
A delayed primary could be a boon for members of the General Assembly who face a party primary and can't raise money until the now-suspended legislative session is over. It's unclear when state lawmakers will return to the capitol or finish their business.
AP writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report.