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The Georgia presidential primary was delayed until May 19. (Photo/Gabriella Audi, www.gabbyaudi10.wixsite.com/mysite-1)

The Georgia presidential primary was supposed to take place on Tuesday, March 24. But, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of Georgia has decided to combine the presidential primary with the Georgia primary occurring on May 19. I believe this was the right decision, given the severity of the public health crisis.

The decision to move an election is never easy, but this choice was made to keep Georgians safe. Polling places would struggle to maintain the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended six-foot distancing necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus. In addition, voting machines are high-touch objects that could transfer the virus from person to person. Voter turnout would likely be affected by fears of contracting COVID-19.

Now that the election has officially been delayed, I am encouraging all students to vote in the presidential and Georgia primaries on May 19. The deadline to register to vote in this now-combined election is April 20th.

UGAvotes had been hard at work tabling daily in Tate Student Plaza, registering students to vote, and helping students request absentee ballots on campus. Our goal was simple: to make voting as easy as possible for all University of Georgia students. We are still committed to this mission, despite the University System of Georgia’s decision to move all classes online for the remainder of the semester. We will be engaging students through digital platforms as we continue to fight COVID-19 as a nation.

Many questions will likely arise given the changes made to Georgia’s election. The State of Georgia must act quickly to ensure that voter turnout is not affected by the necessary postponement of the presidential primary, or by COVID-19 at large. Constituents need to recognize the importance of the now-combined primaries on May 19, and commit to vote.

The election on May 19 will be critical to determining the future of politics in Georgia. Constituents will be given the chance to choose their party’s nominees in a U.S. Senate race, U.S. House of Representatives races, Georgia Senate and House races and local elections. In addition, constituents who were unable to early vote in the presidential primary prior to its postponement will be allowed to choose the party nominee for president of the United States. All votes cast prior to the postponement of the presidential primary will be counted.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, there is no guarantee that the virus will be contained by election day on May 19. Georgia needs to enhance sanitary measures at voting locations to minimize the risk of contracting the virus. Voting via absentee ballot also provides a great alternative to voting in-person. Georgia should be encouraging constituents to vote via absentee ballot in order to minimize foot traffic at in-person polling locations,

Filling out an absentee ballot request form only takes a few minutes, and is a great activity to do with your family while social distancing. If you want to request an absentee ballot, print out the absentee ballot request form using the following link: https://sos.ga.gov/admin/files/Absentee_Ballot_Application_2018.pdf. A detailed guide on how to complete the absentee ballot request form can be found online. Once you have completed the absentee ballot request form, you will need to scan the form into a PDF, which can be done using a scanner or a picture to PDF app on your phone such as Scanner App.

Next, you will need to email or fax the ballot to your home county. For those registered to vote in Athens Clarke County, email your ballot to paula.williams@accgov.com, and for those registered to vote somewhere else in Georgia, visit the website of your county’s board of elections for information on where to send the ballot. Any questions that students or community members have can be emailed to ugavotes@gmail.com.

Voting is essential to our democracy, but we must adapt when public safety becomes a concern. We may need to practice social distancing, but we shouldn’t distance ourselves from the political process or the issues we care about. Georgia made the right decision to postpone the presidential primary, but we must ensure that fears surrounding COVID-19 do not affect the turnout or outcome of our elections.

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