The State Election Board approved absentee voting rules Thursday that require voters to use printed-out application forms and sign them by hand, mandates resulting from Georgia’s new voting law.
A series of voters told the board they opposed the rules because they make voting from home more cumbersome, especially for those who don’t have access to printers, the poor and people with disabilities.
The new absentee ballot application process is one way Georgia’s voting law reduces the ease of absentee voting after a record 1.3 million voters, a quarter of total turnout, voted remotely in November’s presidential election. About two-thirds of absentee voters supported Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump.
Absentee voters were able to apply for ballots online last year without having to fill out paper forms, but the voting law now requires each voter to “write his or her usual signature with a pen and ink” when requesting an absentee ballot.
Georgia Primary May 24
Follow the AJC Georgia Politics team on Twitter (@ajcgapolitics) and @murphyajc. And listen to the AJC Politically Georgia podcast from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Live news updates: Latest election day news from the Georgia Primary
AJC Election Results: Live updating at 7 p.m.
MORE Election results:
- Congress, including the Georgia 6th and 7th districts
- Georgia Legislature
- Metro Atlanta city and county elections
- Referendums and ballot questions, including Cobb cityhood, Atlanta SPLOST
- Metro Atlanta school boards
Rematch: Kemp’s GOP victory sets up another battle with Abrams
Walker wins big, will face Warnock in November
Raffensperger wins Republican primary for Georgia secretary of state
Donald Trump’s revenge tour is derailed in Georgia
Lucy McBath defeats Carolyn Bourdeaux in Georgia’s 7th District primary
Marjorie Taylor Greene easily wins GOP primary in Georgia’s 14th District
More metro Atlanta election news
Complete coverage: Georgia Primary updates elections
Sonia Collette Frix, a voter from DeKalb County, said she has a computer but no printer, and she’s unable to drive to a polling place or a store with a printer because she has epilepsy.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that the state of Georgia will take my income tax return without my hand signature, but it won’t take my request to vote without a hand signature,” Frix told the board.
Several voters echoed her sentiments, saying an electronic signature should be adequate, as it is for filing various types of legal and government documents.
“It’s just unnecessarily burdensome to require us to download and print an application and then sign it and upload it and scan it and mail it back just to be able request an absentee ballot,” said Elaine Johnson of Macon-Bibb County. “It should be simple for us to apply because it should be simple for us to vote.”
The Republican majority in the Georgia General Assembly passed expansive changes to the state’s election laws in March after Trump’s voters demanded changes following his narrow loss. The law includes new absentee voting requirements, expands weekend voting in some rural counties and gives the Legislature more power over local elections.
Though absentee applications now require manual signatures, a different part of Georgia’s voting law reduced reliance on signature ID verification of absentee voters. A driver’s license number or other documentation is now required when requesting and returning absentee ballots, replacing the state’s previous system of comparing voters’ signatures.
The State Election Board passed the rule unanimously Thursday.
The rule specifies procedures for implementing requirements in Georgia’s voting law, Senate Bill 202, stating that applications must contain a voter’s signature. Websites to help voters request absentee ballots are permitted but will only partially fill out request forms. Manual signatures are still needed on forms.
“The requirement of a wet signature is really problematic,” said Sara Tindall Ghazal, the board’s lone Democrat. “I understand that’s also in the statute. If there’s not a way that this can be worked within the rule-making process, then I think it’s really important to go back to the Legislature and ask them to revisit this question.”
The board’s three Republican members didn’t comment on the rule before voting for it.
Georgia’s voting law also curtails absentee voting by limiting the availability of ballot drop boxes, confining them inside early voting locations and closing them four days before an election. About 56% of absentee voters in metro Atlanta’s four core counties returned their ballots in drop boxes before last year’s election, according to ballot transfer forms.
The number of people seeking to use absentee ballots has plummeted this year.
Fewer than 35,000 Georgia voters have requested absentee ballots for upcoming local elections after last year’s high-turnout presidential race.
About the Author