In early April of 2021, Georgia’s Republican legislature and governor passed a 98-page bill that significantly amended the state’s voting laws. The bill quickly sparked extensive criticism.
Major corporations like Amazon, General Motors, and Delta Airlines have voiced their opposition to Georgia’s new voting laws, and Major League Baseball moved their 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
So, what’s all the fuss about? What do you need to know about the potential effects on Georgia voters?
Changes to voting rights
The voting bill touches on every voting option that Georgians have: day-of, early, and by mail.
Shortened windows for mail-in ballots
In the past, voters could request mail-in ballots six months before election day and counties could send those ballots up to 49 days in advance.
Now, voters must request mail-in ballots between 78 and 11 days prior to election day. Counties can only start sending those ballots when the election is 29 days away, which is 20 days later than the previous start date. Also, under the new law, a voter has to explicitly request a mail-in ballot to get one.
Restrictions on ballot drop boxes
Counties are now restricted to whichever of the following options is less:
- One ballot drop box for every 100,000 voters
- One drop box per early-voting site
These drop boxes must be located either at an early-voting location or in a county election office, and they have to be indoors.
Shorter early voting in runoffs
The new law shortens runoff elections to four weeks, instead of the original nine. Runoff elections are mandatory in Georgia when no candidate achieves a majority.
This shorter period leaves less time for early runoff voting, which was previously a guaranteed three weeks. Now, early runoff voting could be as short as five weekdays. Moreover, no new voters will be able to register before a runoff.
New voter ID requirements
Those who vote by mail now have to provide an accepted form of identification, such as a driver’s license number or social security number. This replaces the previous requirement of a simple signature match to confirm the voter’s identity.
More state control
In the past, Georgia’s elected secretary of state chaired the state elections board. Now, the state General Assembly — its House of Representatives and Senate — will select the chair.
The new law also allows the state election board to investigate county election boards. If the state board is dissatisfied with county officials’ performance, it can replace those officials with someone of its own choosing.
New rules regarding in-person voting
Voting is now scheduled for 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays, though county registrants can expand that time frame to 7 PM. Counties are required to offer two Saturday voting days and may add Sundays as well.
States will be required to monitor voter lines and increase capacity if voters have to wait for more than an hour. But the most controversial new aspect of live voting is the ban on handing out food and water within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of a voter.
Impact on voters
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp asserts that the new bill expands access to voting. Critics reject this claim, saying that it adds unfair obstacles, especially to Black voters.
Race and elections in Georgia
In Georgia, Black voters make up about a third of the state’s population. In the recent presidential election, 88% of Black voters in Georgia cast their ballots for President Biden. More than 90% of Black voters supported Democratic candidates in the January Senate runoffs.
Georgia’s state legislature still leans heavily Republican, however, and critics say the new measures attempt to suppress the Black vote and maintain the status quo.
Now that the Assembly can select the chair of the state election board — a position that is supposed to be nonpartisan — some critics worry that the state majority could try to influence election results.
That the state board can now step in and replace county officials increases concerns. Opponents believe that a majority-led board may refuse to certify results that don’t align with its interests.
Potential voter suppression
Critics claim that the new Georgia voting laws will make it more difficult for Black and low-income voters to participate in the democratic process. One recently filed lawsuit suggests that Black voters are less likely than their white counterparts to have the required forms of ID.
Low-income voters also tend to work multiple jobs and could have trouble with the new 9-to-5 voting hours. Voting by mail may not be a viable alternative — not only because of ID requirements but also because dropboxes can’t be evenly spread across precincts. This makes them tougher to access.
What happens now?
Opponents now await the results of a lawsuit from The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Rise Inc. that claims the new voting bill violates federal law. There have also been requests for Congress to implement national voting standards.