The Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration recently deployed five absentee ballot drop boxes throughout the community. Bartow County Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk said the installations are intended to give residents an alternative to in-person voting — and assuage concerns about the mail-in voting process.
“This is a completely new thing,” he said. “In fact, the State election board just approved their use, probably within the last month. And we wanted to make sure we had them available as soon as possible.”
Two of the drop boxes are located in Cartersville — one at the elections headquarters building at 1300 Joe Frank Harris Parkway and another positioned right outside the front entrance of the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center at 135 West Cherokee Ave. In south Bartow there’s a drop box located at the Allatoona Resource Center at 6503 Glade Road in Acworth and in north Bartow there’s a drop box located outside the gymnasium at 163B Manning Mill Road in Adairsville. An additional drop box has been installed outside Euharlee City Hall at 30 Burges Mill Road.
“Basically, the same rules apply to dropping off ballots in the drop box as would apply to bringing them into the office,” Kirk said. “So, for example, if you wanted to bring us your family members’ ballots or someone's you live with, that’s fine. But you can’t, say, go across your neighborhood and gather up everybody’s and bring them in and drop them off at the drop box.”
He noted that the drop boxes are only to be used by those registered to vote in Bartow County, adding that the locations are meant solely for absentee ballots.
“If anybody wants to drop an application in there, I don’t mind,” he said, “but you can’t drop your other mail in there and expect it to be delivered.”
Whereas the drop box at the elections headquarters building is literally built into the office via a large wooden crate connected to the front door, the other drop boxes stationed throughout Bartow are made out of sturdy metal and bear a resemblance to the standard United States Postal Service mailboxes.
“They have industrial strength security locks on them and they all have video surveillance on them,” Kirk said. “So if anything goes wrong, if anything happens, we’ll be able to go back and pull the tapes and do whatever is the appropriate action.”
Anyone who attempts to tamper with the drop boxes would face felony charges.
“Any kind of interference like that with elections is a federal crime,” Kirk said.
Ballots can be dropped off at the locations 24 hours a day — similarly, ballots are collected from the drop boxes seven days a week. The drop boxes will be locked at 7 p.m. on the evening of the primary elections, June 9.
Kirk said he’s perplexed by the apprehensions some in the community have voiced concerning the mail-in voting process.
“There’s rumors that we only count some of the absentee ballots through the mail, we only count them when the race is close, that there’s massive fraud through the mail,” he said. “There’s all this stuff that’s being said and none of it’s true … it’s a beautiful process that really does work, and it’s really convenient for the public. And I think that once we get through this year and through this election, there’s a lot of people who are going to realize that’s a better option for them than coming to vote in-person.”
Kirk reiterated that, technically, every vote cast so far in Bartow County has been via an absentee ballot.
“Whether you vote through the mail, you have a ballot issued to you through the mail and then put it in a drop box or come into the office and vote in-person — it’s an absentee ballot,” he said. “‘Absentee’ just means you cast it before Election Day, and they’re all counted at the same time and in the same way.”
As of last Thursday, Kirk said out of the roughly 14,000 ballots mailed to registered Bartow County voters a little under 6,000 have been returned.
“Everybody who gets a ballot into us is one less person who is coming in on Election Day who's already gotten it out of the way and really makes the process go easier for everyone else who has to come in on Election Day,” he said. “Because there are folks who, despite COVID, need to vote in-person — folks with disabilities, or folks who need assistance or those who tried to vote through the mail and for some reason, they didn’t get their ballot.”
“It takes longer than it normally does,” he said. “We’re only allowing three people in the lobby at a time … and then two voters vote on the voting machines at any one time.”
So far, he said the longest a voter has had to wait to vote in-person has been between 30-40 minutes. As Election Day draws closer, Kirk said he expects the process to become even more time-consuming.
“If you had a ballot issued to you through the mail, we have to cancel that out before you can vote in-person,” he said. “It’s easier if you bring your ballot with you, and we encourage you to do that. But it’s going to add a few more minutes to the process, so just be prepared to wait a little while longer if you’ve had one issued to you.”
For the time being, the drop boxes are only authorized for the June 9 primary elections. Kirk, however, said he anticipates the State election board approving their use in subsequent elections.
“In the coming years, if that’s something the community likes and participates in and uses, it will be expanded,” Kirk said. “But we have a history of voting in-person here in Bartow County and I do expect that to come back — and the new voting system’s great for that.”