ATLANTA --- Members of the military and Georgians living abroad can expect a quicker turnaround on their absentee ballots and greater likelihood their votes will arrive in time to be counted.
State officials don't have figures on how many absentee ballots arrive too late, but the lag time for mail has been a headache for years, say soldiers and executives working out of the country. Until this election, they had to mail a form requesting an absentee ballot and then wait for election officials to mail a ballot to them, and that then had to be returned.
"The old system wasn't very good," said Leonard Ott, the commander of the Georgia Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Sailors on a ship in the middle of an ocean or soldiers on a battlefield were dependent on infrequent deliveries that could add weeks to already lengthy overseas postal service, he said.
For the first time this fall, any member of the military and any registered Georgia voter out of the country can e-mail a form requesting an absentee ballot. Local officials will e-mail back a ballot identical to what any voter in the local precinct would use.
The voter still has to print the ballots, complete them and return them through the U.S. Postal Service, but observers estimate weeks will be saved. The General Assembly authorized a pilot program to test overseas voting by computer, but Secretary of State Brian Kemp is still looking for funds to carry it out.
No extra funds were needed to establish the e-mail program launched this fall. So far, about 2,000 requests have come in from 45 countries.
It's impossible to predict the impact the program could have on the outcome of races. Members of the military tend to be more conservative, but overseas civilians are unlikely to fall into any one ideological camp, political experts say.