What Georgia's controversial new election law means for voters, election officials, and outside groups

·9 min read
Georgia election protest
African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Reginald Jackson announces a boycott of Coca-Cola Co. products outside the Georgia Capitol on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in Atlanta. ackson says Coca-Cola and other large Georgia companies haven't done enough to oppose restrictive voting bills that Georgia lawmakers were debating as Jackson spoke AP Photo/Jeff Amy
  • Gov. Brian Kemp recently signed a major election and voting-related omnibus bill into law.

  • Civil rights advocates have slammed the nearly 100-page legislation as suppressing votes.

  • Here's a breakdown of how the law affects voters, election officials, and outside groups.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a complex and controversial omnibus bill that makes sweeping changes to practically every aspect of the state's voting and election system.

The nearly 100-page long bill known as SB 202, or the Election Integrity Act of 2021, is the first major election-related bill signed into law in a swing state since the 2020 election.

Civil rights groups and Democratic elected officials, including President Joe Biden, have forcefully denounced the law as suppressing voters, particularly the state's Black voters, and have called on major corporations who do business in the state to speak out.

Read more: Gen Z is already shaking up the Biden White House. Meet 12 up-and-coming staffers.

Biden called SB 202 a "blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience," and even likened it "to Jim Crow in the 21st century."

Civil rights groups including the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, Common Cause, and the Georgia NAACP have filed federal lawsuits against the law, charging that its provisions violate laws including the Voting Rights Act and the 14th and 15th Amendments.

Here's what the law's new provisions mean, in practice, for voters, election officials, and outside groups:

Georgia early voting
In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, hundreds of people wait in line for early voting in Marietta, Ga. AP Photo/Ron Harris, File

Changes for voters:

  • Most counties will see expansions in early voting dates and hours.

    • The bill requires early voting from 9 am to 5 pm during the week from Monday to Friday, giving counties the option to open as early as 7 am and close as late as 7 pm. Counties must also hold two Saturdays of early voting from 9 am to 5 pm and have the option to hold early voting on or both of the Sundays during the period.

    • Previously, Georgia required Monday through Friday voting during "normal business hours," which were up to each county's interpretation, and one mandatory Saturday of voting from 9 am to 4 pm.

    • The new requirements mean that voters in small, more rural jurisdictions will likely see the greatest expansions in early voting while early voting dates and times may stay largely the same for voters in larger, more urban counties.

  • Voters have to provide identification information to vote absentee.

    • Georgia previously conducted signature matching by comparing the voter's signature on the outer envelope to a previous signature on file to verify absentee ballots and applications. Now, voters will need to provide the number on their driver's license or state ID card to apply for an absentee ballot and provide one of those numbers or the last four digits of their Social Security number to verify their ballot. The state already requires voters to show a photo ID to vote in-person.

  • Legislators shortened the window to request an absentee ballot.

    • Voters can now request an absentee ballot starting 11 weeks before the election and ending 11 days before the election, a change that better fits the US Postal Service's delivery standards. Previously, voters could request a ballot starting six months before the election up to four days before.

  • Ballot drop boxes are now permanent but only available at certain locations and during limited times.

    • In 2020, Georgia voters got to use drop boxes for the first time thanks to an emergency regulation from the State Board of Elections. The new law codifies drop boxes as a permanent fixture of Georgia's election system, but only allows one drop box per 100,000 residents or one per early voting location, whichever figure is smaller.

    • Drop boxes will only be available during the early voting period during certain hours, not 24 hours, seven days a week.

Gwinnett County voting
Voters stand in line to cast their ballots during the first day of early voting in the US Senate runoffs at Lenora Park, December 14, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia. Tami Chappell/AFP via Getty Images
  • The period between general elections and runoffs has been condensed from nine to four weeks.

    • This means that voters have less time to register, request a mail ballot, and vote early before runoffs, excepting military and overseas voters and those on the permanent absentee list who can sign up to receive a ballot for every election in a given cycle.

    • Overseas and military voters will get ranked-choice instant runoff ballots along with their general election ballots that will be counted in the event of a runoff.

  • The bill sets more clear requirements for challenging voters' registrations. Voters can challenge an unlimited number of other voters' registrations, but a voter whose registration is being challenged must be notified of the challenge and have a hearing date set within 10 days of the challenge being filed.

  • "Ballot selfies" are banned. The law explicitly prohibits voters from taking a photo of voting machines or their absentee ballot.

  • The state will set up a voter intimdation hotline.

  • Some provisional ballots will have new restrictions. Provisional ballots cast by voters who cast a ballot in the wrong precinct won't be counted unless they vote after 5 pm and sign a sworn statement attesting that they couldn't make it to their correct precinct in time.

Brad Raffensperger
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Changes for election officials:

  • The bill demotes the secretary of state from chairing the State Election Board, with the legislature appointing a nonpartisan chair of the five-person board instead. The secretary will be a non-voting, ex-officio member.

  • In the immediate term, the new law diminishes the power of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who rose to national prominence in 2020 for standing up to former President Donald Trump in defending the integrity of the 2020 election.

  • Some Democratic state lawmakers raised concerns that the legislature appointing the Board's chair and giving the Board more influence over local election departments that run their own elections could present a conflict of interest.

  • The Board also has more power to temporarily suspend local election superintendents for repeated violations of the law or "nonfeasance, malfeasance, or gross negligence" over a period of two years. The law allows the Board to appoint temporary replacements pending formal reviews and hearings investigating the superintendent's conduct.

  • The Board cannot independently enter into settlements or consent decrees with litigants.

  • State and local election offices cannot send out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to voters.

  • The shorter runoff period will impact election offices, which will have to immediately turn around and run another election after certifying the last one.

  • Individual counties can no longer accept outside grants and funding from private organizations, as many did in 2020 to held bear the costs of running an election in a pandemic. The State Election Board has been tasked to come up with a plan to accept philanthropic funds and disperse them to county offices.

  • Election offices cannot run mobile voting buses during early voting, as Fulton County did in 2020, except in emergency situations.

  • Paper ballots must be printed on special security paper, which is more expensive than the type of paper currently used.

Georgia ballot counting
Observers watch an official work as ballots are counted for Georgia's Senate runoff election at the Georgia World Congress Center on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Atlanta Brynn Anderson/AP
  • Officials can begin verifying and processing absentee ballots starting two weeks before the election, but cannot start tabulating the ballots until the time the polls open on Election Day.

  • Election offices must report the total number of ballots cast absentee, early, and on Election Day by 10 pm on election night to serve as a denominator of the total votes that will be counted. Officials must count all the ballots in one session to complete the count as soon as possible.

  • The deadline to certify election results is pushed up from the second Friday after the election, or ten days after Election Day, to 5 pm on the next Monday, six days after.

  • Officials can recruit poll workers from other counties outside of their own.

  • In precincts that serve over 2,000 voters and had wait times of over an hour in the last election, election officials must either split up the precincts into two voting locations or add more staff and/or voting equipment to the location.

  • Election officials must give sufficient public notice for location changes to early voting sites, and the time and locations of pre-election logic & accuracy testing of voting machines, which is open to the public.

Georgia polling place
A voter walks to the entrance during early voting for the Senate runoff election, at Ron Anderson Recreation Center, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, in Powder Springs, Ga. Todd Kirkland/AP

Changes for candidates and third-party organizations:

  • In one of the most controversial provisions that even some Republicans have trouble defending, the bill bans volunteers from delivering food, drinks, chairs, or rain gear within 150 feet of a polling place and 25 feet of a line to vote. Elections workers can, however, set up water stations.

  • There are no more "jungle" special elections where candidates from all parties run on the same ballot. Going forward, there will be separate Democratic and Republican primaries for special elections.

  • Third-party groups and campaigns that wish to send out absentee ballot applications to voters must clearly state that the application is not coming from a government office and is not a ballot. They also cannot send applications to voters who have already requested a ballot on their own or already voted absentee.

  • The legislation clarifies training procedures and rules for partisan poll-watchers affiliated with campaigns.

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