Poll shows deep divisions over Georgia voting law

Voters cast their ballots for the U.S. Senate runoff races during early voting at the Cobb County Elections office in Marietta on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (Photo: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Voters cast their ballots for the U.S. Senate runoff races during early voting at the Cobb County Elections office in Marietta on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (Photo: Ben Gray for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Voters split over absentee ballot rules, support weekend early voting

Georgia voters are split along party lines over the state’s new election law, with a divided majority supporting drop box limits, absentee ballot ID requirements and shorter deadlines to request absentee ballots, according to a University of Georgia poll released Wednesday.

But some parts of the law earned bipartisan support or condemnation.

Voters overwhelmingly back weekend early voting options, and both conservatives and liberals say the law — pushed through the General Assembly by the GOP majority — was motivated by Republican Donald Trump’s loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Georgians oppose a ban on giving food and drinks to voters waiting in line, and they object to allowing the state to take over underperforming county election offices.

The survey showed voters’ initial reactions to the law that has drawn national attention to voting rights since Gov. Brian Kemp signed it last month. The poll of 887 voters was conducted by UGA’s School of Public and International Affairs from March 31 to April 19. It has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

The school conducts polls for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, although the AJC did not commission this survey.

Voters’ responses to the law depended in large part on their political beliefs.

While 65% of those surveyed backed requiring a driver’s license number to verify absentee ballots, just 35% of Democrats supported the ID mandate. Meanwhile, 93% of Republicans endorsed the new ID provision, which replaces the previous method of checking voters by matching their signatures. Besides driver’s license numbers, the law also allows voters to provide a state ID number or other documentation.

A previous poll commissioned by the AJC in January found 74% support for additional absentee ID requirements.

Voters showed similar rifts over a requirement that drop boxes only be allowed inside early voting sites, a restriction favored by 55% of those taking the poll. About 35% of those who identified themselves as Democrats and 47% of independents supported the drop box rule, compared with 74% of Republicans.

About 60% endorsed an earlier deadline to request absentee ballots, with a cutoff 11 days instead of four days before election day. Again, voters’ answers broke along party lines.

There’s broad consensus that Georgia’s Republican-led General Assembly was driven by Trump’s loss to pass the voting law, a position taken by 72% of poll respondents, including 56% of Republicans. Trump falsely claimed he had won the election, resulting in calls from his supporters for lawmakers to tighten voting rules.

If the goal of the law was to restore confidence among Republican voters, as many GOP legislators said, then it might have been successful.

Nearly 82% of Republican voters said the law either greatly or somewhat increased their confidence in the state’s election system, compared with just 17% of Democrats.

Few people from either party embraced some of the most contentious parts of the law.

Just 30% of poll respondents said they supported a ban on distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in line. Several organizations had distributed pizza and water to waiting voters during previous elections, but that practice is now illegal because of concerns about electioneering near polling places.

Allowing the state to take over county elections also didn’t poll well, gaining just 34% support. That part of the law permits the Republican-controlled State Election Board to appoint an administrator to replace county election boards that it deems to be underperforming, a provision that raised concerns about partisan interference.

But there’s widespread support for mandatory Saturday and optional Sunday voting during the state’s three-week early voting period before general elections, with about three-quarters of voters approving of both.

The law requires all counties to offer early voting on two Saturdays, a provision that will cover about 40% of the state’s voters who live in mostly rural areas that didn’t previously offer voting on a second Saturday.

UGA poll on voting law

The University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs conducted a poll on the state’s new voting law. It contacted 887 voters from March 31 to April 19. The poll has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points. Here are its findings:

75%: Support two Saturdays of early voting

65%: Support requiring a driver’s license number for absentee voting

55%: Support allowing ballot drop boxes only inside early voting sites

34%: Support allowing the state to take over underperforming county election offices

30%: Support a ban on giving food and drinks to voters waiting in line

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