Georgia lawmakers revise bill setting absentee ballot request deadline

Rep. Demetrius Douglas, a member of the House Special Committee of Elections Integrity, raises his hand to present a question during a meeting Tuesday. The committee amended a bill Tuesday setting deadlines for voters to request absentee ballots and counties to respond to those requests. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Rep. Demetrius Douglas, a member of the House Special Committee of Elections Integrity, raises his hand to present a question during a meeting Tuesday. The committee amended a bill Tuesday setting deadlines for voters to request absentee ballots and counties to respond to those requests. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

The deadline for Georgia voters to request absentee ballots would be moved back to 10 days before election day, according to a bill that passed a House committee Tuesday with bipartisan support.

The legislation would also require county election officials to get absentee ballots in the mail within three business days after receipt.

Currently, voters can request absentee ballots until the Friday before election day, but that doesn’t leave much time to receive and return ballots. State law requires absentee ballots to be returned to county election offices before polls close on election day.

“It’s almost misleading the way our current law works,” said state Rep. Barry Fleming, a Republican from Harlem and chairman of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity. “You could request a ballot properly, and there would be almost no way you’d get it back in time.”

The measure, House Bill 270, doesn’t make exceptions for last-minute absentee ballot requests from voters with emergencies, such as COVID-19 quarantine, illness or military duty.

The Coalition for Good Governance, an election organization, opposes the bill because it doesn’t provide voting access to people with hardships, said Marilyn Marks, the group’s executive director.

Both Republican and Democratic representatives on the committee backed the measure, with just one no vote from state Rep. Kimberly Alexander, a Democrat from Hiram who said she needed more time to review it.

“This is a good-faith effort, and I believe we’re almost there,” said state Rep. Calvin Smyre, a Democrat from Columbus. “The only thing you’re trying to do is protect everyone and make sure everybody has an opportunity” to vote absentee.

The committee had approved a previous version of the bill last week, but the lawmakers reconsidered it Tuesday in response to concerns. Initially, the legislation would have prohibited election officials from mailing absentee ballots in the last 10 days before election day, and voters would have had to request ballots beforehand.

The bill will now be considered by the House Rules Committee before reaching a full vote of the Georgia House of Representatives.

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