Republicans in Georgia enacted a set of election reforms last month that have become the target of criticism by Democrats, the White House, large corporations, and Major League Baseball.
Most of the criticisms center on the new law purportedly making it harder to vote, which allegedly amounts to voter suppression. President Joe Biden called the law “sick” for forcing polls to close at 5 p.m., a claim which even the fact-checkers at the left-wing Washington Post deemed “false.”
A review of the 98-page bill (pdf) shows that it would slightly restrict access to early voting while expanding it in other ways. Taken in its totality, the bill appears to have a negligible overall impact on how easy it will be to vote in Georgia during the next election.
Meanwhile, nearly all descriptions of the law by establishment media either entirely ignore or mention only in passing its election security and ballot integrity provisions. Gov. Brian Kemp specifically described the new law as one that would make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. The law itself states that the aftermaths of the 2018 and 2020 elections were marked by a significant lack of confidence due to allegations of voter suppression and voter fraud. The law is titled the Election Integrity Act of 2021.
But even the new election integrity measures are a mixed bag of changes that have already been criticized as not going far enough by former President Donald Trump and former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline. Trump criticized the removal of signature matching. Kline argued that the bill didn’t do enough to bar the infusion of private money into election infrastructure.
Security and Integrity
The law includes a number of measures that were designed to tighten up election security and the integrity of the ballot. It requires the creation of a hotline where Georgians can report illegal election activities and voter suppression, mandates around-the-clock surveillance of ballot drop boxes, and calls for ballots to be printed on security paper for authentication.
The absentee ballot drop boxes now have to be secured inside buildings and only accessible when those buildings are open for business. The law limits the number of drop boxes to the lesser of one for every 100,000 registered voters or the number of advance voting locations in the county.
The new rules call for absentee ballots to be removed from the drop boxes each voting day by a team of at least two people who fill out a ballot transfer form, which includes their identities and an affirmation that the dropbox was closed after the ballots were retrieved. The election officials who receive the ballots are also required to fill out a transfer form.
The law requires these absentee ballot transfer forms to be a public record. Trump has more than once referred to the more than 400,000 transfer forms which have not yet been produced in response to a request by a local news outlet.
The law requires the manager of each advance voting location to open the dropbox at the beginning of each day and make sure it is empty. If the box is not empty the manager is to notify the local election authorities who then must notify the secretary of state.
The Peach State did away with signature matching in favor of verifying voter identities using the driver’s license and state ID numbers. People without either form of ID can submit the last four digits of their social security number.
Georgia already requires in-person voters to show a physical ID. As a result, absentee ballots are still more prone to fraud because potential perpetrators do not need to produce an official government document or appear in person to do so. Coupling the ID requirement with signature matching would have made it more difficult to cheat.
The law makes it a felony for unauthorized persons to handle ballots or unseal absentee ballot envelopes. Voters are also barred from applying for absentee ballots multiple times.
The law’s prohibition against handing food and drinks to voters in line, much maligned by Biden, is part of a ban on the provision of money, gifts, and other items to voters. Ahead of the 2020 election, multiple groups across several states raffled off cash gift cards and expensive items for voters who turned up at the polls.
The measure also provides for Georgia’s participation in the multistate voter registration database to identify voters who have moved or cast ballots in multiple states.
The law prohibits local election superintendents from accepting any private funds unless they are disseminated by the county, state, or federal governments. Former Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline penned an op-ed pointing out that the restriction does not go far enough, since private entities can still funnel donations to county and state governments. Billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated more than $400 million in 2020 to local election authorities across the nation. Much of the money went to Democrat-leaning counties in swing states, according to Kline.
The former attorney general nevertheless said the Georgia election reforms would overall make it harder to cheat.
“The idea that the Georgia election reform bill is suppressing to voters is a complete lie, it actually expands access to early voting,” Kline wrote on Twitter. “The only thing the Georgia voting bill is suppressing is the left’s ability to cheat in future elections.”
Built on top of the security and integrity measures, the new law adds a number of transparency requirements, some of which appear to address the controversies following the 2020 election. The law grants the secretary of state the power to inspect absentee ballot envelopes and applications statewide. It also makes scanned ballot images public record.
The law requires the duplication of defective or damaged ballots to be overseen by a bipartisan committee. Videos of polling places from the 2020 election appear to show unsupervised personnel duplicating defective ballots.
Election officials are now prohibited from pausing ballot-counting until all of the ballots have been processed, another issue that received significant criticism in the aftermath of the 2020 election in Georgia. Election superintendents who fail to post-election results in their precincts by 5 p.m. the day after the election could trigger a performance review by an independent board appointed by the State Election Board.
The act requires local election officials to publish absentee and early voting statistics on a daily basis during the early voting period. Local election officials are now required to publish the times and days the polls are open on their websites or if they don’t have websites, in newspapers.
While much of the left-wing criticism has converged on the bill purportedly making it harder to vote, the specific provisions around the issue cut both ways.
The bill makes no changes to Election Day hours. For early voting, the law shrinks the period during which people can apply for mail ballots to 78 days before an election, instead of 180 days, while expanding both the hours and the days on which the polls are open. Georgia voters will now be able to vote during two Saturdays prior to an election with localities having the option to expand poll operating hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. instead of the “regular business hours” language which was previously in effect. Precincts can also have the option of opening the polls for one or two Sundays to the early voting period. Requests for a ballot must now be received 11 days prior to the election.
Mail ballots will now be sent out 25-29 days before the election instead of 45-49 days. The law expands from 5 to 10 days the period when people confined to a hospital can cast an absentee vote.
A significant portion of the new law is devoted to wrestling some of the power over election rulemaking from the State Election Board and the secretary of state and towards the state’s democratically elected legislature. There are also a number of requirements for how voters who show up at the wrong precinct can cast a ballot, as well as rules for runoff elections.