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ATLANTA (AP) -- Georgia's state election board on Wednesday approved a new rule allowing counties to establish absentee ballot drop boxes for the state's June primary elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

State election officials have sent absentee ballot request forms to 6.9 million active registered voters, and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has encouraged as many people as possible to vote by mail. 

But some voting rights groups say that requiring voters to provide their own postage during the virus outbreak is an unconstitutional barrier to the right to vote. A lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union asks a judge to order that prepaid postage be provided.

Drop boxes could provide another contactless way for voters to return ballots in person without needing a stamp. But for now it will be optional for counties -- and it could be up to them to pay for the drop boxes as well.

The board approved the emergency rule, which takes effect immediately, during a meeting held by conference call. Ryan Germany, the general counsel for the secretary of state's office, said officials are looking into possible sources of grant money to help alleviate costs to the counties.

During public comment, several voters expressed concern that the virus would still be a problem on June 9, when Georgians are set to go to the polls to vote for party nominees for president, a U.S. Senate seat, U.S. House members and state House and Senate.

The presidential primaries were initially scheduled for March 24, while the other races were set to be decided on May 19. But Raffensperger has twice opted to push back elections because of the coronavirus.

The rule only allows counties to make the boxes available for the June 9 election. The board would have to vote again to extend their ability to maintain the drop boxes for Aug. 11 primary runoffs or the November general election.

 

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