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Changes to absentee ballot processing could lead to faster results on Election Day

SB 202 changed many aspects of voting in Georgia and also adjusted how and when counties can process absentee ballots.

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Compared to recent midterm and presidential elections, on Tuesday Georgia counties could begin reporting the results of absentee ballots faster than ever because of changes found in the state's newest election law.

For the first time during a midterm election, counties have been able to spend the 15 days leading up to Election Day opening and processing absentee ballots.

Gwinnett County Elections Supervisor Zach Manifold gave a tour of his office's facility to help explain how the change is impacting workflow.

Since late October Manifold's staff has been busy processing absentee ballots as they come in. In Gwinnett, the goal is to have processed all absentee ballots received before Election Day by Tuesday morning.

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As of Monday, Gwinnett County had already received more than 16,000 completed absentee ballots from voters, nearly 70 percent of the absentee ballots issued by the county. 

"Absentee ballots always take longer to process than everything else," Manifold said. "You have to timestamp it in, you have to check the ID. Once you confirmed that it is good you have to extract that ballot, you have to lay it flat and let it flatten out so it will go through a scanner. So all of that takes time."

When will we know election results?

Under changes included in SB 202, county elections offices are now able to open and begin processing absentee ballots before Election Day, but they have to stop short of hitting the tabulations button to show the results.

The advance work means starting first thing on Election Day, county election workers can begin adding up the votes from absentee ballots earlier than ever before. 

They must still wait until 7 p.m. at the earliest though before those results can be released and sent to the Secretary of State's Office.

"We will have a staff starting at 8 a.m. on election morning, we will have a sequestered staff, they don't have any cell phones, they're with a sheriff's officer, nothing goes in or comes out of that room -- they will be tabulating all day on Election Day," Manifold said. 

The change in procedures though should allow Gwinnett and all other Georgia counties to begin reporting large numbers of absentee ballot results much earlier on Tuesday evening than in past elections.

Another change in SB 202 directs counties to not stop counting ballots once they begin until all votes are counted. 

While it could speed up results for some counties, Manifold said that change won't impact Gwinnett since they haven't taken breaks in the past.

"The Gwinnett way has always been we go until it is done. We will be here, whatever time it takes," he said.

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