What Does Georgia’s New Voting Bill Actually Stipulate?

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Georgia’s new voting law, which includes a number of updated rules and regulations for municipal, county, and statewide elections, has received major national attention over the past two weeks. Critics across the country have derided the bill as a discriminatory and blatant attack on democracy — President Joe Biden called the bill “Jim Crow on steroids.” However, journalists including the New York Times’ Nate Cohn disputed the alleged injustice and gravity of the law. Amidst outrage and protest, news coverage has failed to sufficiently unpack the bill’s provisions.

Under the new bill, Georgians have significantly less time to request absentee ballots. In 2020, over one-quarter of Georgian voters cast absentee ballots. This update will likely increase the number of ballots collected on election day, furthering the strain on ballot-counters in the election’s immediate aftermath. Additionally, Georgians seeking to vote via absentee ballots will face stricter ID requirements. Whereas previous absentee ballots required only a signature, a state-issued photo ID is now needed. This requirement could hinder low-income residents, especially those in dense urban areas where driving is less common, from voting. Furthermore, Georgia’s state government now prohibits local governments from sending mail-in ballots to voters without a prior request.

Mail-in ballot drop boxes, which already faced challenges from the United States Postal Service during the 2020 election, have been drastically reduced by the bill. The four counties making up metropolitan Atlanta, which makes up more than half of Georgia’s population, formerly had 94 drop boxes. Under the new law, they will have just 23. Between ID requirements, ballot distribution restrictions, and drop box removals, Georgians will have much more difficulty voting by mail in future elections.

In 2020, mobile voting centers (RVs containing voting machines) were instrumental in raising voter turnout across Georgia. During the runoff Senate elections in December, two of these centers traveled to new churches and community centers every day to make voting more convenient for Georgians. These centers, which hosted more than 11,000 voters, were frequently brought to majority-Black churches and community centers. The voting bill bans these mobile voting centers unless the governor declares a state of emergency.

While the new bill technically expands early voting in some cases, it will likely increase turnout in rural areas and drive down voting in densely populated regions. Under old Georgia voting laws, individual counties could set their own hours for early voting during “normal business hours.” Now, all counties can only admit voters from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, which may block some Georgians who work long or unconventional hours from voting. The bill does add extra days for early voting, but it allows counties to prohibit voting on Sundays. Given that Black churches often host voting drives after Sunday services, this stipulation could limit Black access to early voting.

The bill grants greatly increased authority to the GOP-controlled Georgia state legislature, which now holds the authority to designate the chair of the State Election Board. The Secretary of State no longer holds that position. This is notable because Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger famously conflicted with President Trump over election management during the 2020 presidential election.

Philanthropic organizations, which have previously been essential in financing the running of local elections in Georgia, can no longer donate to local election officials. This will disproportionately hurt election boards in poorer areas, which already experience low voter turnout.

Several minor, draconian, and bizarre provisions are also included in the bill. It is now illegal to distribute water to citizens waiting in line to vote; lines are typically longer in urban areas. The state legislature can now suspend county election officials with whom they take issue. A hotline to the attorney general has been established for anonymous tips of voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent in Georgia.

The immense power granted to local Georgian governments could also sway national legislatures and elections. In November’s presidential election, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by just 11,779 votes out of nearly 5 million total (a 0.05% margin). Additionally, Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock both won their special elections in January by less than 2% of the statewide vote. Legislative changes designed to give Republican lawmakers unrestricted control over all elections could drastically alter power at the national level. 

Conservative supporters of the bill point to voter ID laws in liberal states like Colorado, which requires one of four valid forms of identification for in-person voting. However, this comparison is inaccurate and misguided. These defenders ignore the fact that Georgia’s new bill, which is considered significantly more “strict” than Colorado’s by the National Conference of State Legislatures, prohibits non-photo identification for in-person voting. Moreover, approximately 99% of Colorado voters submit mail-in ballots; ID is only required the first time a Colorado resident casts their ballot by mail.

The bill received censure from major Georgia corporations including Coca-Cola, Home Depot, and Delta, the state’s largest private employer. Most notably, Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver in protest of the law. An Atlanta restaurant owner called the move “devastating” for local small businesses. Delta CEO Ed Bastian issued an internal statement asserting that the “unacceptable” bill “does not match Georgia’s values.” Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey published a similar response which said the bill “makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”
In response to Delta’s pushback against the bill, the Georgia House of Representatives swiftly stripped Delta of a multimillion dollar tax exemption. This partisan, childish, and hypersensitive decision further reveals that extreme conservative legislation places the acquisition and retention of power above justice and the benefit of the people.