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Georgia GOP congressional delegation seeks election delay

Joanna Walters wears an American flag shirt as she votes during Georgia's presidential primary election. (AP photo by Andrew Harnik)
Joanna Walters wears an American flag shirt as she votes during Georgia's presidential primary election. (AP photo by Andrew Harnik) (AP photo by Andrew Harnik)

ATLANTA – Georgia’s two U.S. senators and their nine fellow Republican U.S. House members are joining those who want a delay in the state’s May 19 primary election.

The 11 officials signed a letter Tuesday to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to put off the elections.

“We encourage you to use all available flexibility and legal authority to delay the primary until the latest possible date,” the group wrote.

Notably the letter includes the signatures of both U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who are competing for the two-year remainder of a Senate term originally won by the now-retired Johnny Isakson. The letter was signed by seven officials who don’t even face elections that day. U.S. Sen. David Perdue and Reps. Drew Ferguson, Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk and Rick Allen are unopposed for the Republican nomination, while Reps. Tom Graves and Rob Woodall aren’t seeking reelection.

Raffensperger, also a Republican, says he doesn’t have legal authority to further delay Georgia’s presidential primary and other elections originally set for March 24. Those elections were already pushed back more than the 45 days foreseen in state law, with officials reasoning early voting would resume within 45 days.

“We have no legal authority to move this election,” Raffensperger said in a statement Tuesday. “If you would like to move this election, it will take legislative action or an executive order from the governor.”

Georgians are also scheduled to vote May 19 for a Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen David Perdue, plus U.S. House members, state lawmakers, judges and district attorneys.

State House Speaker David Ralston made a similar appeal for a delay last week, and on Sunday renewed his call for a delay until at least June 16.

Like Ralston, the GOP congressional delegation cites President Donald Trump’s disaster declaration, saying that beginning early voting on April 27 is “irresponsible” when Trump is now calling for Americans to remain socially distant until April 30.

“Keeping the status quo unnecessarily exposes Georgia’s poll workers to dangerous health risks and creates the possibility of severely understaffed voting locations,” the group wrote.

Raffensperger said he’s planning ways to allow in-person voting while minimizing coronavirus transmission, but that voting and finding enough poll workers “will be challenging” if social distancing recommendations remain in place. Still, he said Tuesday that elections “must go on.”

“The integrity of election timing is as important to public confidence as are the other safeguards of voter rights,” he said.

Georgia Democrats could lose half their delegates to the Democratic National Convention, set for July 13 to 16 in Milwaukee, if the election is delayed into June. Party rules say primaries must be held by June 9 and delegates named by June 20. DNC officials have said parties must seek waivers if they vote later.

Raffensperger began mailing absentee ballot applications for the May election to 6.9 million active Georgia voters on Monday, at an estimated $10 million cost. The state’s 370,000 inactive voters won’t get applications.