Georgia’s voting law, Senate Bill 202, imposed new remote voting requirements after voters embraced absentee ballots during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. The Republican-backed changes came after Democrat Joe Biden received two-thirds of all Georgia absentee votes against Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 election. Biden narrowly beat Trump in Georgia.
“This is simply making it less convenient for people to get a ballot, and harder for voter registration and election staff to meet those requests,” said Dele Lowman Smith, a Democrat and chairwoman for the DeKalb County elections board. “There is no question in my mind that we’re going to see a significant drop-off in absentee usage.”
State law still allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.
New absentee website
A website where voters could request absentee ballots online — without having to print or sign documents — has been replaced.
The new website, available at securemyabsenteeballot.sos.ga.gov, allows voters to download and print an absentee application, then upload the signed form. Georgia’s voting law requires a “pen and ink” signature, a mandate that made it impossible to request an absentee ballot entirely online.
Voters can navigate the process if they have access to a printer at home or work, but there are other options. They can also call their county election offices and ask for a blank application to be mailed, or they can pick one up in-person at the local elections office.
Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling said the new request website helps voters obtain an absentee ballot while complying with the requirements of Georgia’s voting law.
“Georgians are encouraged to take advantage of all voting options, including in-person voting in the three weeks and two weekends of early voting, and on Election Day,” Sterling said. “Georgia has been, and continues to be, one of the easiest places in the nation to both register and vote.”
The voting law prohibits governments from sending unsolicited absentee ballot request forms. Nonprofit organizations have also stopped mailing forms as a result of the law, which imposes a $100 fine for every form sent to a voter who has already requested, received or cast an absentee ballot.
To submit completed ballot request forms, voters can scan their forms or take a cellphone picture. Then they can upload the form through the secretary of state’s website, email it to their county’s elections office or send it through the mail.
Absentee voters must provide additional forms of identification, both when applying for and returning absentee ballots, according to Georgia’s voting law.
Most voters can fulfill this requirement by writing their nine-digit driver’s license number or state ID number, but 2% of registered voters lack either of those forms of ID on file. Those voters can provide a copy of another form of ID with their applications, including a U.S. Passport, military ID, voter ID card, utility bill, bank statement, government-issued check or other government document.
“We need to make sure people know they can cast their ballots, even if it takes extra steps to do it,” said Marissa Goldfaden, an attorney for Project ID and Spread The Vote, organizations that help voters get government IDs. “We don’t want people to think the barriers are so insurmountable that they don’t cast a ballot.”
Before the voting law, officials verified voters by comparing signatures with those on file.
In-person voters have been required to show photo ID in Georgia since 2008.
Voters must request absentee ballots at least 11 days before the Nov. 8 election, a part of the voting law designed to ensure that ballots can be mailed in time to be returned before polls close at 7 p.m. on election day. In past elections, voters could request absentee ballots until the Friday before an election.
Ballots will also be mailed to voters later than before.
County election offices can begin sending absentee ballots 29 days before the election, a change from 49 days previously. That means ballots will be put in the mail the week of Oct. 10.
Election officials expect the number of absentee voters to decrease this year. Some voters will return to in-person voting because coronavirus fears have subsided; others might abandon absentee voting because of Georgia’s new requirements.
About 26% of Georgia voters cast absentee ballots in the 2020 presidential election, a sharp increase from 6% of voters who returned mail-in ballots in the 2018 general election.
Just 4% of voters returned absentee ballots in this year’s primary, down from 49% in the 2020 primary after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed absentee applications to 6.9 million active voters to help them vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic.