The Glynn County Board of Elections is looking into plugging one of the holes in the system revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several problems arose when it came time to mail absentee ballots to voters living in nursing homes, said Assistant Elections and Registration Supervisor Christina Redden.
Delivering absentee ballots to patients in such facilities is not usually difficult, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became a serious grey area in the ballots’ chain of custody. Due to heightened security measures, mail could not be delivered directly and family members who requested ballots on their disabled relatives’ behalf could not take them to the voter.
State law allows a member of a voter’s family to request a ballot for them if the voter is disabled.
“They should request one to the nursing home, but usually they request one to (go to) the person’s permanent residence and try to carry it to them,” Redden said. “There were a couple of places that I ended up having to hand-deliver ballots, even though we aren’t supposed to, because they were not letting ballots through to patients.”
Redden said not allowing the delivery of ballots was “robbing them of their right to vote.”
This led to plenty of problems and an uncomfortable level of unknowns in the process. While noting “99.9 percent” of ballots were verified as coming from the intended voter, Redden said it makes sense to plug up holes whenever possible.
She proposed giving nursing homes the same treatment jails and hospitals get. High-ranking election officials, as recognized officials of the state, can hand-deliver ballots to the voters. This would only be in effect for nursing homes during a state- or county-mandated state of emergency.
It’s not explicitly allowed in election law, but Redden said she doubted any authority would consider someone “convalescing in her hospital bed at the nursing home” to fall outside the intent of the law.
Exactly who would deliver the ballots, whether the ballots would be individually given to voters, as is the case for hospital patients, and further measures to ensure election integrity will be ironed out before the board of elections adopts new rules.
Elections and Registration Supervisor Chris Channell said the board should ask the Glynn County Attorney’s office for an opinion before doing anything.
In other business, the board talked about its budget for the rest of the year, planning for the next fiscal year and upcoming state legislation that might impact the local elections office.