Georgia absentee ID law has outsized impact on Black and metro voters

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/

Voting law requires more identification for absentee ballots

Over 272,000 registered voters don’t have a driver’s license or state ID on file with election officials, meaning they’d have to submit additional documents to vote by mail under Georgia’s new voting law, state election records show.

The ID requirements disproportionately affect Black voters, who are much less likely than white voters to have ID numbers matched to their voter registrations, according to election data.

Voters who lack a driver’s license or state ID number linked to their registrations will have to verify their identities to vote absentee. Georgia’s voting law requires them to provide a utility bill, bank statement or other form of ID in future elections.

Overall, about 3.5% of Georgia’s 7.8 million registered voters are missing a driver’s license or state ID number, according to records obtained from the secretary of state’s office under Georgia’s open records law. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed the state’s list of voters without ID by comparing it with their registration information, including race, address and voting history.

More than half are Black. Most live in large, Democratic-leaning counties. Some are homeless or poor. And roughly 80,000 of them actually may have IDs but their information isn’t yet matched to election data, an issue state election officials are working to correct.

Georgia’s majority-Republican General Assembly changed ID requirements after a record number of voters cast absentee ballots in November — about one-quarter of the state’s 5 million turnout.

Voters will be required to fill out a driver’s license or state ID number when requesting an absentee ballot, and those who don’t will have to submit documentation, according to the law. In previous years, election workers verified absentee voters’ identities by comparing their signatures, addresses and registration information.

Supporters of the law say the new identification standards will be more objective than signature verification, reducing the possibility of absentee ballots being submitted by someone other than the voters who requested them.

Critics say the ID restrictions will make it harder to vote by mail after a GBI investigation of voter signatures on 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County failed to find a single instance of fraud.

“Undoubtedly, if you put up more barriers and hurdles for people to go through, it’s more ways they can be tripped up and their vote may not count, or they won’t be able to be part of the election,” said Sylvester Johnson, volunteer manager for VoteRiders, an organization that helps voters obtain ID.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/

Courtney Brown, a South Fulton absentee voter listed by the state among those who don’t have ID, said she’s been a registered Georgia voter for 21 years and renewed her driver’s license in 2015. She objects to ID voting policies that she says will lead to rejected absentee ballots from legitimate voters.

“I think it’s targeted. They’re aware that certain people who have obstacles put in front of them aren’t going to vote,” said Brown, a private chef for athletes and entertainers. “It’s just ludicrous. It’s insane.”

Voters might be erroneously listed as not having ID if they obtained or renewed their license before September 2016, when Georgia started automatically registering voters at driver’s license offices, according to the secretary of state’s office. Before then, the Department of Driver Services didn’t submit voters’ information to election officials unless they asked to be registered.

The secretary of state’s office plans to soon update voter registration records to include more ID numbers based on information provided by the Department of Driver Services. Rough estimates indicate that 80,000 of the 272,000 voters currently listed as lacking ID will have an ID number added to their registrations.

Voter registration applications submitted through the mail — rather than online or at driver’s license offices — also might not be associated with an ID number.

Sabrina Payne-Bland, a retired educator from Alpharetta, said she has an ID but it might not be showing up in election records because of her hyphenated last name, causing data-matching errors in government records. She doesn’t want to have to make a copy of additional documents to vote absentee.

“No one wants to give that kind of information out,” Payne-Bland said. “Anytime you vote absentee, you usually request a ballot and they send it to you. To send in other personal information, I’m not going to do that.”

About 56% of registrants without ID are Black, higher than their 30% portion of the state’s registered voters, according to the AJC’s analysis of state election data. Among voters who cast absentee ballots in November’s presidential election, 45% without ID on file are Black.

Various studies have shown that Black voters and other people of color are less likely to have ID than white voters.

But that doesn’t mean Black turnout will decline because of more stringent ID requirements, said Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor who published research on the effects of Georgia’s photo ID law for in-person voting that went into effect in 2008.

“The effects of these laws, at least from my research, are very, very small,” Hood said. “People make adjustments if they don’t have an ID. They can get a free ID or get another kind of ID, and they vote.”

Free voter ID cards are available to registered voters at county election offices and through the Department of Driver Services.

Even before Georgia’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202, everyone who registered to vote was required to provide identification before being allowed to cast a ballot for the first time.

Almost 28,000 of those without ID on file cast absentee ballots last fall. An additional 53,000 voted at in-person voting locations, either during three weeks of early voting or on Election Day. The remaining 191,000 voters without ID didn’t cast a ballot in the general election.

The largest numbers of those without IDs live in metropolitan areas with populations that generally support Democratic Party candidates. Over half of them, 155,000, live in Chatham, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Muscogee counties.

When voters submit an absentee application or ballot without providing sufficient ID, county election officials will mail a provisional ballot that voters can return with documentation to prove their identities.

Some Georgians will struggle to provide ID, especially senior citizens who don’t have a license because they don’t drive and the homeless who lack identification, said Marissa Goldfaden of Spread the Vote, an organization that works with people to get IDs.

“Some people definitely won’t be able to vote by this law, and they can’t vote people into office who can solve their specific problems,” Goldfaden said. “It becomes this unfortunate cycle.”

How absentee ID works in Georgia

Requesting a ballot: Voters will write their name, date of birth, address, and driver’s license number or state ID number on their absentee ballot application form. Voters who don’t have a driver’s license or ID card could return a copy of a passport, military ID, utility bill, bank statement or government-issued check. Voters will be able to submit documentation with their mailed absentee application or submit it online.

Returning a ballot: Voters will write their name, date of birth, and driver’s license number or state ID number on their absentee ballot envelope. Voters who lack an ID number can provide the last four digits of their Social Security number instead, or they can submit a current utility bill, bank statement or government-issued check. All identifying information would be hidden from view when absentee ballot envelopes are sealed.