Georgia Enacts New Law Curtailing Voting Rights
Republicans in Georgia Seek to Halt Democrats’ Gains by Limiting Voting Rights
In a fairly swift response to Georgia’s swing to the Democratic Party in the 2020 federal elections—the state had not had a Democratic U.S. senator since 2005 and had not given its electoral college votes to a Democrat since 1992—the Georgia Legislature has enacted a sweeping new voting law. Many election experts insist that the new statute is intended to limit the voting rights of African-Americans and other people of color, who make up the base of the Democratic Party in Georgia.
The bill moved quickly through both houses in the Georgia Assembly, where Republicans hold significant majorities. The new law was then promptly signed by Governor Brian Kemp, also a Republican. Conservative and liberal elections officials have expressed serious concerns about the potential repercussions of the law, which they say will likely lead to greater politicization of the elections process. A number of lawsuits have already been filed challenging the constitutionality of the law.
State Legislature Has New Power Over Local Elections
Perhaps the most controversial change imposed by the new law, and the one that worries Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, is a provision that gives greater power to the state assembly in local elections. Though the chairmanship of the Georgia State Elections Board is supposed to be a nonpartisan position, the new law gives the General Assembly the right to select who will fill that position. The majority party in the General Assembly can appoint a partisan watchdog. Furthermore, the new law allows the state election board to investigate county election boards and suspend the superintendents of those counties. Conceivably, the state election board could suspend county election officials from the opposite party and replace them with members of their own party.
Key Provisions in the New Georgia Voting Rights Law
The new law makes substantial changes to the absentee voting system that played a key role in the 2020 returns:
- Voters must now produce specific types of identification. In the 2020 election, absentee ballots could be requested online or in writing. If in writing, the request needed to be signed and the signature was checked against the one in the state’s existing voting database. If it was determined to match, the absentee ballot was sent. Under the new law, voters requesting an absentee ballot in writing must include their Georgia driver’s license number, their state identification number, or the last four digits of their social security number to get a ballot mailed to them. Critics say this disproportionately burdens Black voters, as they are less likely to have the forms of identification now required.
- The absentee voting period has been reduced from 49 days to 29 days, and the window for requesting an absentee ballot has been reduced from 180 days to 78 days. Furthermore, an application for an absentee ballot must be received by election officials at least 11 days before the election—the prior window was just four days.
- Unsolicited absentee ballots may no longer be mailed to prospective voters. In 2020, because of concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, Georgia’s Secretary of State mailed absentee ballots to all registered voters. Additionally, third parties may not mail absentee ballot applications to anyone who has already applied for an absentee ballot.
- The statute places limits on the availability of absentee ballot drop boxes, prohibiting more than one ballot box per early voting site. This limit means that there will be one box for every 100,000 voters. Those boxes may be located only at a county election office or early-voting precinct site.
- Food and water may not be distributed within 150 feet of a polling place, though election officials have the option of providing water stations. Democrats say the intention is to dissuade people from voting by creating the prospect that voters may have to spend hours in a long line without food or water. Republicans contend that it prevents undue influence by outside groups.
- The new law also dramatically shortens the length of runoff campaigns. In 2020, the runoff elections were nine weeks after the general election—under the new law, the runoff must take place four weeks after the general election. In 2020, early voting started three weeks before the runoff. Moving forward, there will only be one week of early voting permitted—only Monday through Friday of the voting week.
Other Components of the New Law
Among the dozens of other restrictions in the statute are:
- A ban on mobile voting facilities, such as the Fulton County “voting buses” used in the 2020 campaign;
- Limitations on the validity of ballots cast in the right county but in the wrong precinct; and
- A provision that allows any voter to challenge the qualifications of an unlimited number of other voters.
The law also creates a state hotline where citizens can report allegations of illegal election activities, including voter intimidation.
Current Legal Challenges to the Georgia Law
As of March 30, at least four lawsuits have been filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Georgia:
- New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger – This lawsuit asserts that the new law discriminates against Black voters, violating the 1st and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution with no compelling state interest. Attorneys for the New Georgia Project point to Secretary of State Raffensperger’s comments after the 2020 election that Georgia had the “gold standard” by which absentee voting was managed.
- The Georgia NAACP v. Raffensperger – This lawsuit alleges that many of the new law’s provisions will have a discriminatory impact on Black voters, such as limitation of food and water, as Black voters tend to be more affected by long lines and delays at the polls. The lawsuit also alleges that election officials have failed to provide additional polling places as the number of registered voters has increased in primarily Black neighborhoods.
- AME Church v. Kemp – This lawsuit alleges violation of the federal Voting Rights Act through intentional discrimination against nonwhite voters. The complaint contends that limited access to drop-off boxes, shorter timelines, and new absentee identification requirements all have greater impact on nonwhite voters.
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice v. Kemp – This complaint alleges that the new law will also have a discriminatory impact on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.