Georgia moves toward ID numbers to verify absentee voters

A woman opens and and sorts absentee ballots cast in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs at the DeKalb County Elections Office in Decatur in January. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Caption
A woman opens and and sorts absentee ballots cast in Georgia's U.S. Senate runoffs at the DeKalb County Elections Office in Decatur in January. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

How new absentee voting ID requirements would work

Voters would have to provide more identification to prove their identity when casting an absentee ballot under a proposal that has gained broad support among Georgia’s Republican majority in the General Assembly.

For most voters, the ID requirement could be fulfilled by writing down a driver’s license number on an absentee ballot request form and again on the absentee ballot envelope. About 3% of registered voters don’t have a license or state ID number on file, and they would need to submit additional documentation.

The absentee ID proposal appears to be one of the most likely changes in voting rules to pass in Georgia, with similar language in both House and Senate bills. Lawmakers are also considering legislation to end no-excuse absentee voting, limit Sunday voting and restrict drop boxes.

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The ID number would become a new way of verifying absentee voters, replacing Georgia’s signature matching process. Under existing law, election workers compare the handwriting of signatures with voters’ signatures kept on file, often from when they registered to vote.

While most Georgians already have a driver’s license or state identification card, voting rights groups say the ID proposal would create a hardship for over 200,000 registered voters who don’t have an ID number. They’d have to either obtain a free voter ID card or return a copy of other documentation when requesting an absentee ballot, such as a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, passport or military ID.

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said the ID requirements would make it harder for Georgia’s poorest voters to participate in elections. They’re the most likely to lack an ID number, and they’d have to make copies of documents to vote absentee.

“That is a burden for people, particularly working folks and poor folks,” Brown said. “Any time there are barriers placed on people who are already at an economic disadvantage, what you’re going to see is a drop-off in voting.”

Republican legislators backing the idea of an ID number say it would be more consistent than the signature matching process, which can cause absentee ballot rejections if a voter’s signature changed over time or election workers misjudge a signature. They also say ID numbers would prevent the possibility of forged voter signatures.

“I’d rather have some objectivity,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said before a vote on the bill. “It’s to ensure that the integrity of that ballot is taken to the point where you go, ‘This beyond anybody’s reasonable doubt is this person.’ ”

Voters who requested an absentee ballot online last year were already required to fill in a driver’s license or state ID number instead of writing their signature. About 23% of absentee ballot applicants used the secretary of state’s website before the November general election, a rate that rose to 35% for the U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

Paper absentee ballot application forms didn’t require ID numbers. Instead, voters provided their name, address, date of birth and signature.

Signature verification of absentee ballots came under attack after the presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump and his supporters made unsupported claims of fraudulent absentee ballots.

A December audit by the GBI and state election investigators didn’t find any fraudulent ballots after reviewing a sample of 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County. Ten absentee ballots that had been accepted had mismatched or missing signatures, but the voters who cast those ballots confirmed to investigators that they had submitted those ballots.

Statewide election data shows similar ballot rejection rates in 2020 and 2016 because of missing or mismatched voter signatures. When election officials reject ballots based on a problem with signatures, voters have until three days after election day to provide documentation proving their identity so their ballot can be counted, according to state law.

The drive to use ID numbers instead of signatures to verify absentee ballots is backed by of some of Georgia’s top elected officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

In addition, 74% of registered voters said in a January poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they support requiring voters to include a copy of photo ID or other documentation in order to cast an absentee ball.

Under state law, in-person voters are already required to provide photo ID at their polling places.

The measures requiring ID numbers for absentee voting, Senate Bill 241 and House Bill 531, are pending in committees, with final votes expected before this year’s legislative session ends March 31.

How absentee ID would work in Georgia

Requesting a ballot: Voters would 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 paycheck. Voters would be able to submit documentation with their mailed absentee application or submit it online.

Returning a ballot: Voters would 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 would fill in the last four digits of their Social Security number instead. All identifying information would be hidden from view when absentee ballot envelopes are sealed.