Earlier this spring state lawmakers in Georgia passed a new law concerning how the state runs its elections which was signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp on March 31st. The decision comes just months after President Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the General Election and the state of Georgia as well by just 11,779 votes, making Biden the first Democrat to win the state of Georgia in a General Election since President Clinton in 1996. The new law will go into effect on July 1s.t. Here is what is in the bill
- Special ballots will be created for non-partisan elections.
- Ballots will be printed in black and white ink on security paper.
- The cut-off date for mail-in ballots 11 days before a federal, primary, or general election or 22 days before a municipal general election or primary.
- A 25-day deadline for the issuance of absentee ballots for federal, primary, or general elections or 22 days for a municipal general or primary election.
- A Georgia state driver’s license number, ID card number, date of birth, and the last 4 digits of your social security number or another approved form of identification must be printed on the outside of the absentee ballot.
- Conditions for rejecting absentee ballots if certain requirements are not met.
The new law is a massive piece of legislation that both its supporters and detractors have a lot to say about it. Ultimately this will affect all voters in Georgia so here is a detailed breakdown of what Georgia voters should look out for whenever they plan to cast their ballots in future elections.
How will it protect against voter fraud?
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Raffensperger spoke about the new bill and he said that it will weed out any “bogus” residents who will attempt to vote. According to the Secretary, everyone will be required to present a photo ID in order to verify their identity before they cast their ballot. The Secretary also noted that there were a total of 8,000 out-of-state residents who requested a ballot and they were given a letter from the state detailing the penalties were for voting in the state of Georgia if they were not permanent residents.
What’s in the bill?
Voters will be able to request a ballot 79 days before the election and mail it in 29 days before it, previously voters could mail ballots 49 days prior to an election. Early in-person voting will be expanded for general elections, two early-voting periods on Saturday are required for each county, with optional voting on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Whereas in previous elections early voting began on the fourth Monday before a primary or election and ended the Friday before election day. Depending on what county you live in you could be able to vote from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m or even 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. For some smaller counties, voters will be able to cast their ballots from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. As far as run-off elections are concerned early voting will begin as soon as possible and it will require early voting Monday through Friday prior to the election. However, counties may not be able to offer early weekend voting depending on how fast they finish the first election and move on to the second.
If you live in Fulton County you will no longer be able to use the mobile buses that were purchased a year ago to aid with long lines. While a 2019 omnibus bill allowed more early voting sites in more locations, state Republicans have written new laws that prohibit buses to be taken to the polls unless the Governor declares an emergency. Other rules in effect require a 4 by a 4-foot sign that shows where the polling locations are and that anybody except poll workers is allowed to hand out refreshments to those waiting in line to vote within 150 feet of the building. They may also not do it within 25 feet of any voter standing in line. When early voting takes place counties must keep a record of in-person voters, as well as the number of absentee ballots that were issued, used, and rejected. Early voting sites and times must also be posted publicly ahead of time.
There will also be a change in how the votes are tabulated in future elections given the fact that it took many counties a long time to release their vote totals and the general confusion is as to why the process wasn’t over on election night. One change local election officials are embracing is absentee ballots being processed two weeks prior to the election. Counties must also count all ballots non-stop as soon as the polls close at 5 p.m. Local officials will be required to report the total number of ballots cast on election day, during early voting, absentee, and provisional ballots, all by 10 p.m. on election night. This is so the public is aware of the total number of votes that were cast as the results begin to trickle in. Provisional ballots will not be counted after 5 p.m. unless the voter signs a statement stating they could not make it to their home polling place in time. Now that all of the votes must be tabulated by 5 p.m. the day after the election, lawmakers moved the certification deadline 6 days after the election rather than 10. As far as absentee ballots are concerned they will be checked using the ID information voters write on the outside envelopes.
Another change the bill would require is that there will be more flexibility for election officials concerning voting equipment for smaller races with low turnout. Officials will be required to calibrate every piece of technology used in the election. The dates and times will be posted on the county’s website, local newspapers, and the Secretary of State’s office must keep a public list. Massive polling places with more than 2,000 voters will longer waiting times and will be required to hire more workers. More than 1,500 precincts in Georgia have at least 2,000 voters. GOP legislatures also made sure that poll watchers be trained before they go to work and gives local officials the power to determine where those watchers can observe from.
There are also new rules for ballot drop boxes where a board of registrars or an absentee ballot clerk may supply one ballot drop box for absentee voters who choose to vote by mail at respected offices or voting locations. Any additional drop boxes are restricted to one box per 100,000 voters in a given county. The boxes are only accessible during advanced voting. The number of drop boxes in Georgia’s most populated counties of Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, and Gwinnett which makes up a majority of the state’s population, will decrease drastically from 98 to 23 starting in 2022.
Another massive change featured in the bill would be that the Secretary of State can no longer serve on the election board. The new chair will be a non-partisan actor appointed by a majority of the Republican-controlled state House and Senate. The chair will not be allowed to have run for office, participate in a political party, a campaign, or have made campaign contributions in the past two years prior to being appointed. If the position were ever to become vacant the Governor would appoint a new one. The board will also have the power to intervene in state elections that are deemed underperforming. In addition to the appointed chair, the five-member board will be made up of one member appointed by the House, one in the Senate, and one appointed by both political parties. House and Senate members could also conduct an independent performance review of board members or Judges who supervise the election. According to Georgia law, this person is referred to as the superintendent. SB 202 would allow the board to suspend the multi-person elections board or probate judge and replace them with somebody else for a minimum of nine months. The Superintendent is responsible for certifying the election results, handling changes in polling places, and hearing challenges to voter eligibility. All of these must be done in a timely manner and have an unlimited number of changes. The board is limited to suspending only four members at a time.
What are critics and proponents saying about the bill?
Republicans will argue that they decided to pass the bill in order to protect the integrity of future elections against voter fraud. They support voter ID laws because if people need an ID in order to drive a car, buy alcohol, or gamble then you would require an ID in order to cast your vote in an upcoming election.
Critics of voter ID laws will argue that they are racist because voter ID laws greatly affect minority communities. 25 percent of African-Americans lack a government-issued photo ID whereas only 8 percent of whites share the same problem. Photo IDs can also be expensive for people who don’t have one. Underlying documents to acquire a photo ID when it comes to document fees, and travel expenses can add up to $75 to 175 which will greatly affect lower-income voters. Disabled and elderly voters may have to travel a long way in order to obtain a photo ID. In Rural Texas, voters may have to travel up to 170 miles to reach the nearest ID office. Voter ID laws also affect voters who live in big cities such as New York or Chicago because they might not own cars and therefore do not have a driver’s license. Voter ID laws also lower voter turnout. In 2014 a GTO study published that there was a 2 to 3 percent reduction which translates to tens of thousands of votes not being cast in a single state.
There has also been massive corporate backlash due to the new law in Georgia. Major League Baseball for example moved the All-Star game from Truist Park in Atlanta to Coors Field in Denver. The Rockies were looking to host an All-Star game in the near future and due to Georgia’s new voter ID law, Baseball gave them a chance to do that. Prior to the change of plans, the Atlanta Braves were planning to honor the late Hank Aaron, the legendary Braves hitter who knocked 755 career home runs, who died this January at the age of 86. The All-Star game also would have given them the chance to show off their four-year-old stadium to the baseball world this summer. Hundreds of corporations have also denounced the bill including Amazon, General Motors, Google, CBS, UPS, Microsoft, Delta, Coca-Cola, and Bank of America. The CEOs of these corporations blasted the new law calling it unacceptable, they also said that the right to vote is sacred and that making it more difficult for black voters to exercise their right to vote is wrong. There are different ways you could look at the new law in Georgia, if you are a resident of the state it is important you keep all of this in mind the next time it’s time to go out and vote.