Bill setting earlier Georgia absentee ballot request deadline advances

State Rep. Barry Fleming, chairman of the Special Committee of Elections Integrity, speaks Thursday during a committee meeting where a measure advanced that would limit how long voters have to request an absentee ballot. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
State Rep. Barry Fleming, chairman of the Special Committee of Elections Integrity, speaks Thursday during a committee meeting where a measure advanced that would limit how long voters have to request an absentee ballot. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A Georgia House committee approved a bill Thursday that would effectively prevent voters from requesting absentee ballots the week before election day.

The legislation would require election officials to mail absentee ballots to voters at least 10 days ahead of an election, meaning voters would have to request absentee ballots beforehand.

Supporters of the bill said it would help ensure that ballots reach voters through the U.S. Postal Service in time to be returned to county election offices. Critics said the measure would limit voters’ options by forcing them to request absentee ballots well in advance.

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The legislation, House Bill 270, is the first election-related measure to advance this year as Georgia lawmakers are also considering whether to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, ban ballot drop boxes and require more stringent ID requirements. The bill passed on a voice vote, with Republicans generally in support and several Democrats opposed.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Barry Fleming, said current state law allows voters to request absentee ballots until the Friday before election day, which doesn’t leave enough time for them to be delivered and returned. State law requires absentee ballots to be received at county election offices before polls close.

“You’re really setting up somebody to fail,” said Fleming, a Republican from Harlem and chairman of the Special Committee on Election Integrity. “You need to push that back to a reasonable period of time where not only can it be processed properly and also gotten back to the voter, but they have time to send it back in.”

State Rep. Rhonda Burnough, a Democrat from Riverdale, said voters need a full set of absentee and in-person opportunities in the days prior to an election.

“By reducing this option of when they can request an absentee ballot, then we’re going back to the possibility of increasing lines,” Burnough said. “If they can’t request an absentee ballot, that means during the last week of early voting we’ll have long lines.”

Over 31,000 Georgia voters requested absentee ballots in the last 10 days before November’s presidential election, and 16,000 of those voters returned their ballots in time to be counted, according to state election data. In all, 1.3 million people voted absentee.

Other absentee ballot legislation

Georgia lawmakers are also considering:

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