Georgia panel passes bill to limit drop boxes, expand weekend voting

The House Special Committee on Election Integrity Committee backed sweeping legislation Monday that would place limits on the use of ballot drop boxes while expanding weekend days when polls would be open during early voting. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
The House Special Committee on Election Integrity Committee backed sweeping legislation Monday that would place limits on the use of ballot drop boxes while expanding weekend days when polls would be open during early voting. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

Voting measure could reach full House this week

A bill that would restrict drop boxes and increase weekend voting hours in Georgia cleared its committee on Monday, setting up final votes within days in the General Assembly.

The sweeping 94-page legislation divided Republicans and Democrats as it passed the House Special Committee on Election Integrity along party lines.

Voting rights advocates said the measure, Senate Bill 202, would limit voter access by curtailing ballot drop boxes, requiring voter ID for absentee ballots and disqualifying provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

But the bill’s backers say it would increase voting opportunities by requiring two Saturday early voting days and making two Sundays optional. A previous version of the bill would have reduced Sunday voting. Under current law, only one Saturday is mandatory during the state’s three-week early voting period, but some counties offered additional days.

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“We have greatly increased voting access in Georgia,” said committee Chairman Barry Fleming, a Republican from Harlem. “There will now be more early voting hours across the state than there ever has been before.”

Democrats on the committee said the proposals would make voting more difficult, leading to lines on election day if voters are unable to cast absentee ballots so easily.

Absentee ballot drop boxes would only be allowed to be located inside early voting locations and under supervision, and they wouldn’t be open after early voting hours. Drop boxes wouldn’t be available in the last four days of an election, when it’s probably too late for them to arrive in time through the mail.

“People like the drop boxes. I don’t know why, if someone likes something, we need to get rid of it,” said state Rep. Rhonda Burnough, a Democrat from Riverdale. “And then we’ve got to have a guard sitting next to it — that’s a form of intimidation.”

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The bill also would set a deadline to request an absentee ballot 11 days before election day, ban free food from being distributed to voters waiting in line, limit mailing of absentee ballot request forms and allow the State Election Board to take over underperforming county election boards.

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The measure could reach the House floor for a vote as soon as Thursday. House and Senate members will likely need to negotiate a final version of the bill, with final votes before the end of this year’s legislative session March 31.

“By enshrining drop boxes into law for the first time, we are making it easier to vote across our state,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge.

The Senate Ethics Committee could vote on its version of an election overhaul bill on Tuesday. The Senate’s bill is less expansive, focusing on similar requirements as the House for absentee ID, drop box limits and weekend voting hours.

Senate Bill 202

The measure, which on Monday cleared the Georgia House Special Committee on Election Integrity, would:

  • Limit absentee ballot drop boxes to locations inside early voting sites during regular hours
  • Expand weekend voting to two mandatory Saturdays and two optional Sundays
  • Require a driver’s license number, state ID number or other documentation to request and cast an absentee ballot
  • Set a deadline to request an absentee ballot 11 days before election day
  • Disqualify provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct
  • Prohibit food from being distributed to voters waiting in line
  • Allow the State Election Board to replace underperforming county election boards
  • Mandate runoffs four weeks after elections and create partisan primaries for special elections

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