What is Georgia’s voting law?
The new Georgia voting law is large and complicated, containing both voting restrictions and expansions. What does it actually do?
- Shorter window to request absentee ballot: Shrinks the window from 180 days to 78 days before Election Day.
- Later mailing of absentee ballots: Instead of sending ballots to voters 49 days in advance, counties can begin sending ballots to voters just 29 days before Election Day.
- It’s now illegal for election officials to mail out absentee ballot applications to all voters.
- Requesting and returning a ballot now requires a “driver’s license number, state ID number or … a copy of acceptable voter ID.” While this replaces signature matching, which was susceptible to subjectivity and bias, it creates a new problem: The inequities of who can obtain a driver’s license or ID card and the difficulty in locating the correct number on such a card.
- Ballot drop boxes are limited in each county to one per early-voting site, or one for every 100,000 voters in the county, whichever number is smaller. These all have to be in one location, indoors, at either a county election office or at an early-voting precinct location.
- Shorter runoffs: Instead of three weeks of early voting in runoffs, there will only be a single Monday-Friday period.
- Mobile voting centers are banned unless the governor declares an emergency warranted their use. Last year, Fulton County (Atlanta) had to R.V.s bringing polling sites to underserved communities.
- Only election officials can give food and water to voters in line, but are not required to do so.
- The election board will now be chaired by a legislative appointee instead of the secretary of state. The appointee can’t have participated in a party organization or donated recently to a campaign. While this would, in theory, be better than a partisan elected official (like secretary of state), the heavily Republican General Assembly has given themselves the power to choose an individual who can effectively overturn elections in the state.
Further reading: Michigan Journal of Race and Law. “Barriers to the Ballot Box: Implicit Bias and Voting Rights in the 21st Century.” PDF: https://repository.law.umich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1049&context=mjrl
- Requires polls with lines longer than an hour to add staff or another precinct for the next election.
- At least one ballot drop box is mandated in each county, something that wasn’t codified before. However, the limit on drop boxes arguably negates this expansion when seen at the state level; the main beneficiaries are rural counties that may not have previously had a drop box.
- Adds a required Saturday of early in-person voting for each primary and general election; previously only one Saturday was mandated. The main locations that did not have more than one Saturday available were rural counties.
As you can see, the majority of the expansions of voting opportunities benefit rural counties that are likely to lean Republican.
- Counties are not required to keep their early-voting locations open during non-business hours, but are not prohibited against it (though sites must close by 7 pm).
Having examined the effects of the bill in specific, it is also important to place it in proper context: Republican lawmakers wrote the bill after their party lost both the 2020 presidential election and two federal senate seats, amid unfounded claims of fraud perpetuated by the former president with the help of state and national Republicans. We can’t ignore the environment the law was written in or the motivations behind it.
“The conversation is something like the mid-2000s debate over whether torture works. It basically doesn’t, but to even have that debate is to have surrendered something,” Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, said on Twitter.
Furthermore, the Republican party has spearheaded campaigns across the country to limit voting rights, relying on the same unfounded claims of fraud. According to the Brennan Center, we’re seeing an unprecedented “backlash to the 2020’s historic voter turnout” in the form of nearly 400 restrictive voting bills across the country, introduced “under the pretense of responding to baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities”.
We’ll end this section with a quote from Jamelle Bouie’s NYT Op-Ed.
The laws that disenfranchised Black Americans in the South and established Jim Crow did not actually say they were disenfranchising Black Americans and creating a one-party racist state… There was no statute that said, “Black people cannot vote.” Instead, Southern lawmakers spun a web of restrictions and regulations meant to catch most Blacks (as well as many whites) and keep them out of the electorate.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms signed an order directing the City’s Chief Equity Officer to develop and implement a plan to mitigate the effects of the new restrictive voting law. “The voting restrictions of SB 202 will disproportionately impact Atlanta residents ― particularly in communities of color and other minority groups. This Administrative Order is designed to do what those in the majority of the state legislature did not ― expand access to our right to vote,” Bottoms said in a statement.
While the city cannot change state law, her plan involves training staff members to educate the public on the new rules and assist them in completing requirements within the specified time frames. Voter outreach will also be expanded, with QR codes and website links in mailings such as water bills to provide information on voter registration and absentee ballots.
There are now four lawsuits against Georgia seeking to have the new voting law struck down by the courts. All cases are assigned to Trump-appointed Northern District of Georgia Judge J.P. Boulee. Boulee previously worked at Jones Day, one of Trump’s favored law firms and the source of many of his judicial nominees. The following are some key quotes from each lawsuit. More information can be found here.
New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Rise Inc.:
These provisions lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting. Instead, they represent a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early and election-day voting more difficult—especially for minority voters. PDF
The Georgia NAACP, Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, League of Women Voters of Georgia, GALEO Latino Community Development Fund, Common Cause, and the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe:
SB 202 is the culmination of a concerted effort to suppress the participation of Black voters and other voters of color by the Republican State Senate, State House, and Governor…these officials are using racial discrimination as a means of achieving a partisan end. These efforts constitute intentional discrimination in violation of the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. PDF
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., Southern Poverty Law Center, and law firms WilmerHale, and Davis Wright Tremaine brought the case on behalf of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund Georgia, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.:
With no valid justification—and with little opportunity for any, let alone meaningful, public input and review—the Georgia General Assembly enacted Senate Bill 202 (“S.B. 202”), a sweeping series of provisions that make it harder for certain Georgians to vote… consistent with Georgia’s long and ongoing record of discrimination, the burdens will be disproportionately felt by voters of color, especially Black voters… By design and as a result, these provisions—both on their own and in their aggregate effect—violate both Section 2 of the VRA, and the rights of voters of color under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. PDF.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta:
…in light of frequent and continuing reports across the country of AAPI-targeted assaults and killings, many Georgia AAPI voters fear leaving their homes. Given this ongoing spate of anti-Asian violence, the accessibility of absentee voting has taken on particular importance for the AAPI community.
SB 202’s challenged provisions deny AAPI voters a full and equal opportunity to participate in the political process… After the record-setting turnout in the 2020 election cycle from voters of color, including AAPI voters, SB 202 is an obvious attempt to roll back the clock to the racially restrictive voting practices of Georgia’s discredited past. PDF.
Republicans are railing against corporations that oppose Georgia’s voting restrictions, threatening to punish those that change their business practices in response. After Major League Baseball announced that it would move its 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Jeff Duncan (R-SC) issued statements indicating they will introduce legislation to revoke MLB’s federal antitrust exception. Delta Air Lines spoke out against the law, saying it is “built on a lie,” so Georgia Republicans tried – unsuccessfully – to rescind the company’s tax break.
“Major League Baseball, Coca-Cola and Delta may be scared of Stacey Abrams and Joe Biden and the left, but I am not,” [Gov. Brian Kemp] said.
- Further reading: “The unserious comparisons between Colorado’s voting laws and Georgia’s new one,” WaPo. “Colorado Vs. Georgia Voting Laws: What Are The Differences?” Colorado Public Radio.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell similarly accused these corporations of siding with Democrats to create “a woke parallel government.”
“From election law to environmentalism to radical social agendas to the Second Amendment, parts of the private sector keep dabbling in behaving like a woke parallel government. Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”
At a news conference on Tuesday, McConnell was quick to clarify that he still wants corporate money: “My warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics…I’m not talking about political contributions…I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state, because you don’t like a particular law that passed, I just think it’s stupid.”
You may recall, as a result of the 2010 Citizen’s United ruling, money is speech. Apparently, according to McConnell, that is the only form of acceptable speech that criticizes Republican policies.
Corporations have contributed $50 million since 2015 to state legislators supporting voter suppression bills, including $22 million during the 2020 election cycle. AT&T gave the most – $811,000 – followed by Altria / Philip Morris – $679,000 – and Comcast – $440,000. Full list of top 25 companies contributing to supporters of voter suppression legislation.