Georgia voting law drives rejections of absentee requests made too late

November 2, 2021 Atlanta: Voters surge the machine first thing in the morning at Park Tavern located at 500 10th Street NE in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Normally, a wide-open vote for Atlanta mayor would take center stage in the metro area on Election Day. But low early turnout, a high number of undecided voters, and major competition for attention from Game Six of the World Series could scramble the outcome. Voting began Tuesday morning in elections for Atlanta mayor and city leaders across Georgia as voters hoped for short lines and no problems. Election Day will be closely watched in Fulton County, which covers most of the city of Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
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November 2, 2021 Atlanta: Voters surge the machine first thing in the morning at Park Tavern located at 500 10th Street NE in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Normally, a wide-open vote for Atlanta mayor would take center stage in the metro area on Election Day. But low early turnout, a high number of undecided voters, and major competition for attention from Game Six of the World Series could scramble the outcome. Voting began Tuesday morning in elections for Atlanta mayor and city leaders across Georgia as voters hoped for short lines and no problems. Election Day will be closely watched in Fulton County, which covers most of the city of Atlanta. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Missed deadline was No. 1 cause of absentee ballot denials

The top reason Georgia election officials rejected absentee ballot applications this fall was that they were submitted too close to Election Day, missing a deadline imposed by the state’s new voting law.

Election data show about 52% of all absentee application rejections were caused by voters requesting ballots within the last 11 days before the election, too late to meet the requirements of a voting law passed in March.

Few people voted after their absentee requests were rejected because of the deadline. About 26% of those who submitted their absentee ballot requests after the deadline went on to cast ballots in person on Election Day.

The absentee ballot deadline is part of Senate Bill 202, which also put limitations on remote voting by restricting ballot drop boxes and requiring additional forms of ID. The majority-Republican General Assembly tightened absentee ballot access after a record 1.3 million Georgians voted remotely in last year’s presidential election, two-thirds of whom supported Democrat Joe Biden.

Absentee request rejections 2021
Georgia election records

Supporters of the absentee request deadline said it ensures voters have enough time to receive and return their ballots through the mail before Election Day. In past elections, voters could request absentee ballots until the Friday before an election.

“The way it was before, you almost were setting voters up to fail,” said Amber McReynolds, the founding CEO for the National Vote at Home Institute, which advocates for voting access outside polling places. “That’s actually a best practice to cut it off so that voters are actually receiving the ballot with enough time to get it back.”

Critics of the absentee request deadline said it’s too early and hinders voters from being able to cast ballots.

State Election Board member Sara Tindall Ghazal said the deadline should be five to seven days before Election Day, giving voters more of an opportunity to vote absentee.

“Far too many voters end up being disenfranchised,” said Ghazal, the Democratic Party of Georgia’s member on the board. “It leads to many voters getting their applications rejected and not able to access their ballot otherwise.”

ExploreHow Georgia’s voting law works

In all, election officials rejected 4% of absentee ballot requests for this year’s municipal elections on Nov. 2, according to public voting records analyzed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There were 1,362 rejected absentee ballot applications out of 35,312 submitted.

That’s an increase from less than 1% of absentee ballot applications rejected in last year’s general election.

“The 11-day deadline is too far in advance of Election Day to adequately serve voters, particularly when there is no provision for voters with unforeseen circumstances who learn shortly before Election Day that they cannot vote in person,” Heard County Elections Supervisor Tonnie Adams wrote in an affidavit for a lawsuit opposing the voting law.

The second-largest cause of absentee application rejections also stemmed from Georgia’s voting law. Missing or incorrect ID information accounted for 15% of denied ballot requests.

The voting law requires a driver’s license number, state ID number or a photocopy of another form of ID for absentee voting. Previously, election officials verified absentee voters by a system of signature matching and registration information verification.

The law also eliminated the biggest source of absentee application rejections from last year’s election.

Three-quarters of application rejections last year were duplicative requests for absentee ballots, often caused because voting organizations and local governments repeatedly mailed voters request forms.

The voting law now bans governments from mailing unsolicited absentee request forms, and organizations are only allowed to mail applications to Georgians who haven’t already requested a ballot or voted. As a result, this fall’s elections had no absentee application rejections because voters submitted forms twice.


Absentee ballot application rejections

Application received after deadline: 52%

Missing ID: 15%

Ineligible voter/incorrect information: 9%

Outdated application form: 9%

Signature issues: 8%

Missing information: 5%

Miscellaneous: 3%

Overall absentee application rejection rate: 4%

Source: Georgia election records

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