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The truth about elections in Georgia

The truth about elections in Georgia
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The recent focus on Georgia elections is not new. Neither is the rampant, politically driven misinformation that is being spread about what is happening in our state. Since the passage of SB 202, President BidenJoe BidenCaitlyn Jenner says election was not 'stolen,' calls Biden 'our president' Manchin, Biden huddle amid talk of breaking up T package Overnight Energy: 5 takeaways from the Colonial Pipeline attack | Colonial aims to 'substantially' restore pipeline operations by end of week | Three questions about Biden's conservation goals MORE and his fellow Democrats have made claims about election law in Georgia that independent fact checkers have stated are patently false. Considering the bipartisan efforts to erode confidence in Georgia’s elections, it should come as no surprise that Georgia needs to regularly update its election laws, as we did in 2019 and have done with SB 202. Dealing in facts is the only way we can break this cycle. 

First and foremost, Georgia voters have extensive ballot access. Period. Full stop. That was true before the Georgia legislature passed SB 202 and it is even more so now.

As a result of SB 202, Georgia voters can enjoy 17 days of mandatory early voting, up from 16 days, including two mandatory Saturdays and two optional Sundays. Sunday voting days are now a permanent part of Georgia law thanks to SB 202. Georgia’s 19 days compare very favorably with the nine days that New Jersey just added to the praise of Fair Fight Action Founder Stacy Abrams

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Voters in Georgia have had access to no-excuse absentee ballot voting since a Republican legislature made it law over Democratic opposition in 2005. At the time, many notable Democrats on the local and national level expressed concern about the security of absentee ballot voting. In the same vein, some of the people who are criticizing Georgia’s law for limiting absentee ballot access have previously argued that all-mail voting systems disenfranchise Black voters. The NAACP and prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias argued in Ohio that due to skepticism from Black voters, voting by mail cannot and should not replace in-person voting. With a large Black population, Georgia must, should and will retain the early in-person voting options that all vote-by-mail states like Utah, Oregon and Colorado can forego. 

Thanks to SB 202, Georgian voters will be able to use absentee ballot drop boxes in future elections. Drop boxes were authorized on an emergency basis in 2020 to handle the expected surge in absentee ballots due to COVID-19, but that authorization expired after the January runoffs. Without the authorization from the Georgia legislature in SB 202, drop boxes would have gone away entirely. Additionally, though 35 counties did not have drop boxes in November 2020 — mostly poor rural counties that could not afford it — Georgians in all 159 counties will have access to at least one. Counties can add an additional ballot box per 100,000 population. 

Requiring ID for absentee ballots is popular among Democratic and Black voters in Georgia, according to at least one poll, and replaces the subjective signature-matching system for identifying voters that both sides have criticized. The Democratic Party even sued Georgia alleging that signature matching was too subjective to trust. Using an ID number is as objective as it gets. Most voters have a driver’s license, a free state voter ID, or a Social Security number. The 9,000 Georgia voters who don’t can use a bank statement, utility bill, or other ID spelled out in the Help America Vote Act

Ironically, the commonsense proposals that Democrats have somehow doublespeaked into “voter suppression” include laws that will cut down voting lines. Thanks to the new law, if voters have to wait an hour to vote, the county needs to either break up the problematic precinct, decrease the number of voters assigned to the precinct, or add additional voting equipment. In Georgia, the size, number and management of polling locations is decided entirely at the county level, leaving addressing long lines in the hands of the counties themselves.

Another provision that has been all but ignored in this ongoing debate is the introduction of ranked-choice voting for military and overseas voters in runoff elections. Georgia’s men and women in uniform will be able participate in runoffs by absentee ballot without worrying about missing the deadline. 

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Modeled after similar provisions in New York, the law establishes a buffer zone near voters following repeated instances of political organizations and candidates using distributing refreshments as a way around electioneering and bribery restrictions. Groups interested in providing water to voters in line can give the water to the poll manager to distribute. Additionally, nothing precludes voters from bringing their own refreshments, for example. Providing gifts of any value to voters in order to incentivize them to cast a ballot is considered bribery and has been illegal under Georgia law — as it is in many states — for years.  

The other changes include joining 25 other states in not counting out-of-precinct ballots, except in the last two hours of Election Day voting. In the past two elections, we saw political groups expressly telling voters that they could vote at any precinct in their county, which led to a marked increase in out-of-precinct voting. If it continued to increase, this cumbersome process would have led to longer lines, delayed results, and onerous duties on elections officials post-election. The new law sets a realistic deadline of 11 days for absentee ballot requests to help ensure voters get their ballots in time to vote. Voters still have a 67-day window in which to request their ballots. 

The truth is that many of the legal challenges to these bills fail on the merits but only after years of litigation. The post-2018 lawsuit by Abrams’ Fair Fight Action was recently cut down to a fraction of what it was. The five lawsuits launched in response to SB 202 will probably go the same way. 

Notably, litigating the voter-list maintenance process is one of the three issues that remain from Abrams’ 2018 suit. Though Abrams’ lawsuits to stop Georgia’s list maintenance efforts regularly fail, federally required list maintenance practices are a constant source of “voter suppression” allegations in Georgia even as states like Colorado continue them almost uncontested. 

Georgia’s election system provides numerous ways for Georgia to cast a ballot. The new legislation expands early voting, maintains no-excuse absentee ballot voting and makes absentee ballot drop boxes a permanent part of Georgia’s election law. The Georgia legislature took concrete steps to tackle long lines and put in realistic deadlines for absentee ballot requests. 

Bottom line, Georgia voters have plenty of ways to access the ballot box, regardless of what liberals and the media allege. 

Brad Raffensperger is the Georgia Secretary of State. He is also the CEO and owner of Tendon Systems, LLC, a specialty contracting and engineering design firm.