By KENDALL KARSON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — In Georgia, the state’s top election official mailed all active registered voters ballot applications — one of the first Republicans to push for such a significant shift to vote-by-mail. In Nevada, another Republican secretary of state, along with the state’s county election officials, moved to a nearly all-mail election for the first time. And in North Dakota, no polling sites will be open.On Tuesday, five states are holding primaries in a transformed reality due to the coronavirus — offering a potential test run ahead of the fall, when vote-by-mail could become the primary tool for elections if the virus persists.In Georgia and West Virginia, voters will weigh in on the presidential contests that have now been settled, with former Vice President Joe Biden over the weekend securing the majority of delegates needed to formally become the Democratic presidential nominee, a marker President Donald Trump crossed in March. Statewide contests will also be held.In Nevada, North Dakota and South Carolina, voters will cast their ballots in down-ballot races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, among other lower-profile races.But even as all five have largely transitioned from a traditionally run contest to one conducted by mail, the president has ramped up his attacks on the voting practice.Last month, Trump, who has often railed against mail voting by alleging — without evidence — that the voting alternative is ripe for fraud, singled out Nevada, along with Michigan, for expanding vote-by-mail for the June primaries.The secretary of state’s office refuted Trump’s assault on Nevada’s mail-in election, saying in a statement, “Secretary Cegavske lawfully declared the 2020 primary election as a mail-in election. Nevada has many safeguards in place to ensure the integrity of an all-mail election, including signature requirements and verification processes, preprinted ballot return envelopes, barcode tracking, and laws against ballot harvesting.”The contests are also the second slate of elections since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer, which sparked dozens of protests across the country. Last Tuesday, the elections took place in some cities under curfew due to the civil unrest, such as in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, but most states managed to minimize the impacts of the demonstrations on voting.After last week’s restart to the primary season, in which at least one state is still tallying votes, these five are expected to confront a similar array of challenges, including an influx of absentee and mail-in ballots, long lines, wait times and social distancing at in-person polling sites.”I anticipate long lines because I think people are getting more comfortable to go out and vote,” Aaron Johnson, a member of the Fulton County Board of Elections, said on the eve of the election. “I think that is going to add to it.”In Georgia, where the presidential primary was postponed to ready the 2020 battleground for holding an election during the coronavirus, much of the attention on Tuesday extends beyond the state’s pandemic adjustments and the contests for the top of the ticket.Voters will pick the Democratic nominee to face incumbent GOP Sen. David Purdue, who is up for re-election this year, parsing through a field that includes Jon Ossoff, who lost a high-profile special election in the state’s 6th Congressional District in 2017, Teresa Tomlinson, the former mayor of Columbus, and Sarah Riggs Amico, who shared the ticket with Stacey Abrams in 2018 as the nominee for lieutenant governor.The race could potentially head to a runoff, which would be held on Aug. 11.The election is also likely to be more competitive in November, due to the addition of Georgia’s other Senate seat to the ballot after GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson retired in 2019 and was replaced by Sen. Kelly Loeffler. After being appointed to the seat by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Loeffler is facing a tough road to winning the seat outright, as she is locked in a fierce contest with Georgia Congressman Doug Collins, a key Trump ally in the House. Both Senate seats are rated as “lean Republican” by the Cook Political Report.Lower down the ballot, Congresswoman Lucy McBath, who represents the 6th Congressional District, might face a redo election against former GOP Congresswoman Karen Handel, who McBath defeated in 2018 to turn the seat blue, if she emerges the winner of a crowded Republican primary.In the neighboring 7th Congressional District, the retirement of GOP Rep. Rob Woodall spurred a crowded race to replace him. One of the most prominent contenders is Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Democrat who lost to Woodall in 2018 by the narrowest of margins — just over 400 votes. Some of the competitors include a progressive challenger, Nabilah Islam, who has scored the endorsement of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. The Republican primary, is equally as congested with seven candidates.State election officials are also contending with a surge in absentee ballots.Of the 6.9 million voters sent applications, over 1.6 million requested an absentee ballot, according to data from the secretary of state’s office. Nearly 943,000 absentee ballots have been returned as of Monday, with a virtually even split between the two parties. About 463,000 Democrats returned ballots, compared to 460,000 Republicans.Regardless of the pandemic, the quick adjustments and the entirely new protocols for elections across the five states, the coronavirus does not appear to have hampered participation.In the other state with a presidential contest on the ballot, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner said that in the last three months “a total of 262,441 voters had applied for an absentee ballot. Of those, 191,346 had already returned their completed ballots” as of last Friday. The number of registered voters participating through vote-by-mail teeters on being nearly 40 times more than the amount of registered voters who mailed in their ballots in the 2016 presidential election.”Absentee voters in this primary election make up about 15.6% of the state’s registered voters,” Warner said in a statement.In Nevada, where voters are experiencing an entirely different election, despite the coronavirus, turnout appears slightly higher than previous cycles. As of Monday morning, 339,853 ballots have been cast by mail, 99% of the total 342,824 ballots have been cast so far either by mail or in-person. The current total is about 21% turnout, compared to about 19% in 2016.In South Carolina, the rules of voting significantly shifted between South Carolina’s presidential primary at the end of February to now. But the state implemented changes to accessing vote-by-mail for the June primaries, with the state legislature and the state’s Republican Gov. Henry McMaster passing a bill to allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot for the primary — and only the primary — and a federal judge nixing the witness signature requirement.Of the state’s more than 3.3 million registered primary voters, 181,961 ballots have been issued to voters across the state, and a total of 141,915 have been returned so far, according to data provided by election officials. In 2016 and 2018, only about 60,000 absentee ballots were cast in each election, according to the Post and Courier.And in North Dakota, 72% of voters who requested a ballot have since returned it ahead of Tuesday. Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.