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Georgia’s New Voter Law Does More Harm Than Good; March 2021

Policy Summary: On March 25, 2021 Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed Georgia SB 202, which is known as the “The Election Integrity Act of 2021.” The sweeping 98-page bill purports to make changes to voting and elections in order to make them more secure. The bill was passed by the Georgia Legislature in the aftermath of an election where claims of election fraud and irregularities were made when in fact there has been no evidence of election fraud in Georgia or around the country.

Some of the new changes brought on with the passage of SB 202 are in the area of absentee ballots, changes to early voting periods and changes to how votes are tabulated. Absentee ballots will now require an accepted form of ID, the use of absentee ballot drop boxes (Georgia did not use absentee ballot drop boxes last year) and restrictions on who can request an absentee ballot. Early voting periods will actually be expanded with an additional mandatory Saturday although for early voting periods for runoff elections the bill simply states “as soon as possible.” The new law also changes how votes are to be processed. Absentee ballots can start to be processed, but not tabulated, two weeks prior to election day. And, Georgia counties must complete their tally of all votes by 5 P.M. the day after Election Day. The law also shortened the time period to certify the vote totals to six days instead of ten days. LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: Georgia’s new “Election Integrity Act of 2021” has been controversial from the beginning. Due to the changes that it will implement the new law has been called a new era of Jim Crow in Georgia, a blatant effort at voter suppression of minority communities and an unwarranted reaction by GOP legislators to unfounded claims of voter fraud that had been peddled by former President Donald Trump. A closer inspection of the bill shows that the bill is not necessarily as extreme as it is painted out to be. The bill still has numerous problems while having a few other noteworthy provisions.

One theme that can be discerned about this new law and why voting rights activists are rallying against it is because the act shortens time periods from what had previously been in place. For absentee ballots and the use of ballot drop boxes, the boxes now must be inside an early voting site and can only be accessible when the early voting site is open. In other states, ballot drop boxes are often outside and accessible at any time of the day similar to a regular post office drop box. This act, in effect, reduces the hours a ballot drop box is accessible. Another time period that is getting shortened with the new law is the deadline to finish counting all ballots in a county. Unlike the scene from the 2020 election where the counting of votes went on for days after Election Day this new law now mandates 5 P.M. the day after election day as when the counting of votes will be stopped. If the goal is election integrity, this act does not address how these changes will make an election more secure. Reducing the availability of a ballot drop box prevents a vote from coming in instead of making an election more secure. And by reducing the number of hours a vote can be counted opens up the possibility that properly cast ballots will not be counted, too. The shortening of these time periods does nothing to ensure that an election is being conducted properly and without undue interference.

Is the new law completely bad? While the new law has been vilified in the press, it does have two provisions which help improve the right to vote in Georgia. Georgia previously had a signature match system to verify absentee ballots and voter registration applications. The signature on each of those documents had to match a signature that Georgia had on file, like on a driver’s license. That made it very easy to dismiss and discard a properly cast ballot. That controversial system has been eliminated and poll workers will now verify an absentee ballot or voter registration application with personally identifiable information such as driver’s license number, date of birth and address. And the bill, as noted already, modifies the law by expanding some early voting periods.

But these welcome changes were overshadowed by some provisions that belied common sense. SB 202 imposed additional restrictions on third parties that worked to register voters for an absentee ballot and, in the most notorious provision of the entire bill, made it a crime to give a voter waiting in line to vote food or water. The additional rules on third parties registering voters for an absentee ballot were likely aimed at limiting voter registration drive groups which have long been used by black communities to encourage the black community to vote. But targeting a method used mostly by the black community made it easy to associate the act as a new incarnation of an old Jim Crow law. And the provision on prohibiting giving food and water to voters is simply a cruel gesture. People often spend hours in line to vote and so making it criminal to assist another person with a humanitarian gesture associates SB 202 with a callous image that filters down to all the rest of the provisions in the act.

Recently, two lawsuits have been filed in Georgia to challenge the new law and there has been talk of an economic boycott of the state. Hopefully a court can strike down some of the most contentious provisions and allow Georgia to approach the next election free of some of the obstacles contained in the new law. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – non – profit group’s infopage on recent wave of state voter suppression bills.

Brennan Center for Justice – non – profit group’s analysis of Georgia’s SB 202 voter bill.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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