New Georgia voting rules bring changes to 2021 elections

12/14/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia —  Fulton County residents cast their ballots during early voting at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center near the Westhaven neighborhood in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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12/14/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Fulton County residents cast their ballots during early voting at the C.T. Martin Natatorium and Recreation Center near the Westhaven neighborhood in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

Absentee and in-person voting tweaked by Georgia law

Most voters will experience Georgia’s new voting law for the first time when they cast their ballots in races for mayor and city council across the state.

Early voting hours will change in some counties. Absentee voting comes with more stringent ID requirements and deadlines. Ballot drop boxes will be limited.

This fall’s elections are a test of the voting law passed by the General Assembly in March. The 98-page law, Senate Bill 202, alters many parts of Georgia election systems, including voting access, security, transparency, ballot counting and runoffs.

Early voting

During three weeks of early voting, election officials can choose to keep polls open for a full 12 hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or they can opt for fewer hours, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In previous elections, early voting times were required “during normal business hours,” but those hours weren’t defined.

Early voting will also be offered on two Saturdays statewide, and local election offices have the option of providing voting hours on Sundays as well. Before the law, one Saturday of early voting was required.

Voters can find their early voting locations and hours online on the state’s My Voter Page at www.mvp.sos.ga.gov.

ExploreAJC voter guides for the Nov. 2 election

Absentee voting

Some of the most significant changes to Georgia election laws are focused on absentee voting.

Most voters must provide a driver’s license or state ID number when they request absentee ballots. Voters who lack those forms of ID will need to attach a photocopy of other forms of identification such as a U.S. passport, military ID, utility bill or bank statement with their absentee application form.

Absentee voters are again required to provide similar forms of ID when returning their completed absentee ballots. The last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers can also be used for ID at that point in the process.

The timeline to request is also compressed. Voters must request absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day, and the ballots must be received at local election offices before polls close on Nov. 2. In past elections, voters could request absentee ballots until the Friday before an election.

A reduction in the number of absentee ballot drop boxes is another change from elections in 2020.

The new voting law prohibits drop boxes from being used outside of early voting hours, and they can only be located inside early voting locations. The number of drop boxes in each county is capped at one for every 100,000 active voters or the number of early voting locations. Every county must install at least one drop box.

ExploreHow Georgia’s voting law works

Vote counting

After polls close, results might come in more quickly than in prior elections.

The voting law requires local election workers to count ballots nonstop until they’re done, except for reasonable breaks.

All absentee ballots must be counted by 5 p.m. on the day after election day, with the exception of military, overseas and provisional ballots, which can be returned up to three days after election day.

In addition, election officials must provide turnout information on election night. They’ll report the number of in-person ballots and absentee ballots cast by 10 p.m., according to the voting law. Violations could result in a performance review by the State Election Board.

In-person voters will likely experience few differences from prior elections. One modification is that volunteers are no longer allowed to hand out food or drinks to voters waiting in line. Poll workers will be permitted to install self-serve water receptacles for voters.

After election day on Nov. 2, all of these procedures will be repeated again if runoffs are necessary 28 days later.

Then a bigger trial of Georgia’s voting law will arrive during higher-turnout statewide elections next year, when voters will decide on races for governor, a U.S. Senate seat and all 236 state legislative seats.

Learn more about Atlanta elections

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is providing complete coverage of the Atlanta city elections on Nov. 2, 2021, including the race for mayor. Here are some resources to help you learn more about the elections, including early voting, absentee voting and information for Election Day.

AJC voter guides for Atlanta and other metro Atlanta counties

Who are the candidates for Atlanta mayor?

Who are the candidates for Atlanta city council?

Neighborhood by neighborhood: The AJC asked What do Atlanta residents want from the next mayor?

The Race for Mayor: A weekly roundup and update by our political reporters of the most important things you need to know about the Atlanta mayor’s race

Full coverage: Latest news articles and election information for voters

More about how the AJC is covering the Atlanta mayor’s race

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