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.
“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.”
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.
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