Researcher: It’s still easy to vote in Georgia, but law ‘a step backward’

A new report says it's still relatively easy to vote early in Georgia, even after the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 202. The report's author also highlighted some problems with the measure, adding a few were "ripe for abuse." (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)
A new report says it's still relatively easy to vote early in Georgia, even after the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 202. The report's author also highlighted some problems with the measure, adding a few were "ripe for abuse." (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia is among the states that makes early voting relatively easy — and it remains so even under the state’s new election law — a new analysis has found.

But the study’s author also called Senate Bill 202 “a step backward” and said it includes “troubling” provisions that will make voting harder and some that are “ripe for abuse.”

That assessment likely will give ammunition to both supporters and critics of SB 202, which has put Georgia at the vanguard of Republican efforts to impose stricter voting rules across the country.

SB 202 expands early in-person voting for general elections in much of the state, while shrinking the time for voting in runoff elections. It requires counties to provide at least one drop box for absentee ballots, but it restricts the number and location of those boxes in a way that will curtail their use in much of metro Atlanta. It also imposes new voter ID requirements for absentee voting, sets an earlier deadline for voting absentee and allows the state to take over local election offices that don’t meet standards.

The law has prompted lawsuits and a political firestorm, with Democrats calling it a Republican bid to hold on to power by suppressing minority votes. Vice President Kamala Harris became the latest prominent Democrat to decry the bill in an interview Wednesday with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“It is not only a tragic attempt to manipulate a system for political gain, but in the process it has the potential to undermine the very integrity of our democracy,” Harris said. “And it is clearly motivated by an election that was a shining example of what expanded access can do to enhance a democracy.”

Republicans have been just as adamant that Democrats are misleading people about the law.

“You’ve had this national narrative and a lot of misinformation,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told the AJC on Thursday. “But at the end of the day, we are in the mainstream” of election laws.

Amid that debate comes a report this week from the Center for Election Innovation and Research, which examined the ease of voting early in all 50 states. The study looked at which states offered all-mail or no-excuse absentee voting and which provide in-person early voting.

At a press conference Thursday, David Becker, the center’s executive director, called early absentee and in-person voting “very good measures of voter access and integrity.” He said early voting gives people more opportunities to cast their ballots.

And he said spreading voting over many days makes fraud — though rare — more likely to be detected. If someone fraudulently casts a ballot in someone else’s name, that’s more likely to be discovered if it happens a week before the election than on election day, he said.

Becker’s analysis shows Georgia is one of 35 states that offer both no-excuse absentee voting or all-mail voting and early in-person voting. Those include states controlled by both political parties.

Eight other states offer in-person early voting, but they require an excuse to vote absentee. And seven states offer no in-person early voting and require an excuse to vote absentee.

Raffensperger said the study validates Georgia’s approach to elections.

“I want everyone in America to understand that Georgia is in the mainstream of election processes and the mainstream of election law,” he said.

Becker said the study does not consider other important factors that affect voter access and security, such as the number of early in-person voting days. And he offered a mixed assessment of SB 202.

He praised its expanded early voting, and he said its new ID requirement is “misunderstood.” Critics say poor and minority voters are most likely to lack the kind of identification required. Becker noted that 97% of Georgia voters have a driver’s license or state ID number, and “almost all” have a Social Security number. All those can be used to vote under SB 202.

But Becker said the law “makes drop boxes very difficult to access” and makes it harder to request an absentee ballot.

Becker cited two provisions he said can be abused. One is the provision that allows the state to take over local election offices. The other allows for unlimited challenges to the eligibility of voters — a provision that could burden legitimate voters.

But he saved his harshest language for the rationale behind the rash of new election laws: former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen.

“A lot of this legislation is being propelled solely by a fantasy, a big lie that the election was stolen or rigged,” he said. “That is not only not true, it is the exact opposite of what was true. We just had the most secure, accessible election in U.S. history.”

Becker singled out Georgia’s 2020 performance as a model for others.

“The fact is, Georgia started better off than most states in terms of access,” he said. “If most states held an election as secure and accessible as Georgia did in 2020 under their previous laws, we’d be in pretty good shape.”

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

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