By Greg Gelpi
Before the first vote is cast, the July 20 primary election is already experiencing problems.
Printing problems have delayed and reduced the number of days for absentee voting in Clayton County and could create more problems.
Typically, absentee voting begins 45 days before a primary election. It was shortened to 30 days this election because of redistricting.
Absentee voting for the July 20 primary election should have begun last week, but has yet to begin.
Those who don't get their votes in "would have recourse with the county," said Cara Hodgson, a public information officer with the Georgia Secretary of State's office.
Diebold, the company that prints the ballots, has had several problems, including machinery that broke Thursday, said Annie Bright, the director of the Clayton County Department of Elections and Registration.
In the county's last election in March, there were 831 absentee ballots cast, and in the last primary election, Aug. 20, 2002, there were 1,107 absentee ballots cast.
"They're still having problems," Bright said Thursday. "We can't start anything until we get ballots. Our hands are tied. It's really frustrating."
She said that she has been on the telephone "back and forth" with the secretary of state's office to resolve the matter.
Hodgson said the state elections division of the secretary of state's office intervened for the county and contacted Diebold, calling the delays "unacceptable." The two agreed to have the ballots to the county Monday.
"We're told that some of the ballots are on the way, but I want all of them," Bright said.
A "partial" shipment of ballots was shipped Thursday, David Bear, a spokesperson for Diebold, said. The "bulk" of the shipment will be delivered Monday. It is normal for Diebold to send a partial shipment ahead of the bulk of the shipment to spread the workload.
Counties aren't required to report delays to the state, but Hodgson said "some" counties experienced delays and Clayton County is the only county yet to receive its ballots.
"The best thing to do is to get them out as soon as possible," she said. "Hopefully, it will be resolved so we can send them out."
The delay will primarily affect overseas voters, Hodgson said. Clayton County is home to Fort Gillem, and Fort McPherson is only a few miles away, and the county has many soldiers overseas.
Bear didn't know the cause of the delay and didn't know the date the ballots were originally supposed to be shipped.
"I don't think it's a matter of anyone's fault," he said.
Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration Member Bob Bolia said the ballots were supposed to be delivered June 25, then Monday and now this coming Monday.
He said that the county should consider a different printing company in future elections.
"Obviously, we're committed to them this year," Bolia said. "I would hope that next year we would look at another company."
State law leave no wiggle room for absentee ballots.
"The superintendent shall, as soon as practicable prior to each primary or election, but at least 45 days prior to any primary or general election other than a municipal primary or election, and at least 21 days prior to any municipal primary or general election, prepare, obtain, and deliver an adequate supply of official absentee ballots to the board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk for use in the primary or election," according to state law.