What’s in the Georgia Election Law? Voter ID Changes & More
Do you support or oppose the Georgia election law?
What’s the story?
- A recently enacted Georgia election law known as the Election Integrity Act of 2021 has sparked controversy, with detractors calling it an attempt at voter suppression and proponents saying it secures Peach State elections and makes them more accessible.
- President Joe Biden is among the Democrats who have likened the election law to the restrictions on voting imposed during the Jim Crow era and expressed sympathy for some efforts to boycott the state over the law. He was also given “four Pinocchios” by the Washington Post fact-checker for claims he made about the hours of polling places under the bill.
- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed the bill into law and has defended it alongside Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, both of whom have been maligned by Democrats over this law and by former President Donald Trump after they refuted the latter’s efforts to cast doubt on election results in the state. Kemp says the bill “makes it easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
- Here’s a look at what the new Georgia election does and how it compares to the prior law:
What does the new Georgia election law do?
- Georgia law previously required voters to show a form of identification to vote in person, but absentee ballots weren’t subject to the ID requirement.
- Under the new election law, the ID requirement applies to all ballots, while a previous signature requirement is eliminated (CBS found that about 3,200 of 1.1 million mail ballots were rejected due to signature issues in a June 2020 primary).
- Voters can satisfy the ID requirement with a photo ID with a driver’s license, the last four digits of their Social Security number, a utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck, or a government document that shows their name and address. Voters can also obtain a free ID card from the state Dept. of Driver Services.
- Absentee voters may provide a photocopy with their ballot to satisfy the requirement but can alternatively provide the ID number from their state-issued ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number to do so.
- The new Georgia law requires there to be at least 17 days of early voting. Early voting would begin on the Monday that’s 22 days prior to Election Day and conclude on the Friday before the election.
- Counties are required to offer early voting on at least two Saturdays (only one was required under prior law), and may also offer early voting on Sundays. Previously, most of the larger Georgia counties offered early voting on two Saturdays, but smaller, rural counties were less likely to do so.
- Early voting must be open from 9am until 5pm, but counties may choose to offer expanded hours and remain open from 7am to 7pm. Previously, Georgia required that counties be open for early voting “during regular business hours” which meant that some rural counties with part-time election offices weren’t open for an eight-hour day.
ABSENTEE / MAIL-IN VOTING
- State election officials are prohibited from sending unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to voters, so voters will have to request absentee ballots to receive them. Third-party groups may send absentee ballot request forms to voters, but must include a disclaimer that reads: “This is NOT an official government publication and was NOT provided to you by any governmental entity and this is NOT a ballot.”
- The timeline for requesting and returning absentee ballots has been shortened by the new law. Voters can request absentee ballots as early as 78 days prior to an election (rather than 180 days) and must return them 11 days before the election.
- Georgia allowed the use of secure drop boxes for returning ballots for the first time in 2020, and the new law requires at least one drop box per county (but no more than one drop box per 100,000 county residents).
- The drop boxes must be located inside the clerk’s office or inside a voting location and accessible during early voting hours, then closed when early voting ends. During the 2020 elections drop boxes were available at any time.
- Counties that had a precinct with more than 2,000 voters in the last election or a precinct where voters waited for more than an hour to vote are required by the new law to create a new precinct or add resources that will reduce wait times.
- Voters who go to the wrong precinct before 5pm will be instructed to go to the correct precinct instead of casting a provisional ballot, but if they’re at the wrong precinct after 5pm they can cast a provisional ballot if they’re unable to get to the proper precinct before polls close.
FOOD & BEVERAGE SERVICE AT POLLING PLACES
- Georgia law previously banned political campaigns and interest groups from distributing or displaying campaign materials within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of voters in line for a polling place.
- The new law also bans political campaigns and interest groups from giving voters gifts while they’re in line at a polling place, “including but not limited to, food and drink.” This provision is intended to prevent campaign workers or members of outside groups from campaigning within restricted areas.
- Poll workers are allowed to set up self-service water for voters in line to use for hydration. Voters may also bring food and drink with them or get them from political campaign workers outside of the restricted areas around polling places.
- The secretary of state will no longer chair the five-member state election board, and will instead be a non-voting ex officio member. The board members and the non-partisan chair will be elected by the state legislature. The chair is prohibited from actively participating in a political party or similar organization, making political donations, or running for public office while serving in the role or in the two years prior to serving as chair.
- The election board is granted new powers over local election officials under the new law. The board is able to suspend county or city election officials for poor performance or violating election board rules following a preliminary investigation and hearing then appoint temporary replacements, although no more than four officials can be suspended.
- A pandemic-related change that allowed election workers to start processing (but not tabulating) absentee ballots 15 days prior to Election Day is made permanent by the new law.
- Election officials are required to publish the total number of ballots cast ― including Election Day, early voting, and absentee ballots ― by 10pm on Election Day.
- Once election workers begin tabulating ballots they must continue counting until they’re done. With this change, counties are required to certify election results within six days, rather than 10 days under prior law.
- The Georgia attorney general is required to establish a hotline for voters to raise complaints about voter intimidation or other suspected illegal activity. Complaints can be anonymous and the AG is required to review the allegations to assess whether it merits further investigation or prosecution. Voters can challenge the qualifications of another voter to cast a ballot.
- The period for runoff elections has been shortened from nine weeks after the general election to 28 days after the general election.
- The new law requires early voting in a runoff to begin “as soon as possible” and for early voting to be open from Monday through Friday, with weekend early voting possible depending on progress made by counties in completing work from the prior election.
- Military and overseas voters will receive ranked-choice ballots on their primary and general election ballots because the shorter runoff period would make it difficult for them to receive and return the runoff ballot.
— Eric Revell
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