Georgia’s new voting law goes into effect Thursday, requiring new forms of ID for absentee voting, tighter ballot request deadlines and changes to early voting.
Parts of the law will have an immediate impact on two state House runoffs after early voting already began this week. But requirements for absentee voters to submit a driver’s license number or ID documents won’t be used in the runoffs because those races began under previous election rules.
The bigger test of Georgia’s voting law will come in November, during higher-turnout contests for Atlanta mayor and in cities across the state.
Much of the 98-page voting law took force the moment Gov. Brian Kemp signed it March 25, restricting ballot drop boxes, banning volunteers from handing out food and drinks to voters, and empowering state officials to take over struggling county election offices.
Legislators gave election officials until July 1 to implement several provisions dealing with absentee and early voting. Pending federal lawsuits, including a case filed last week by the U.S. Department of Justice, are asking the courts to stop the law.
Voters in ongoing runoffs will have to comply with an earlier deadline to request absentee ballots.
The voting law, Senate Bill 202, requires voters to apply for absentee ballots at least 11 days before election day, meaning Friday is the last day they can seek to vote by mail in state House runoffs underway in Cobb County and South Georgia. Previously, voters could request absentee ballots until four days before an election, leaving little time to receive and return them.
Early voting days will also change, with no weekend days offered in the runoffs. Georgia’s voting law prohibits voting on the second Saturday before an election if it precedes a holiday. Early voting is also disallowed on the weekend before an election.
Starting in this fall’s elections, voters will begin submitting different forms of ID for absentee ballots. The secretary of state’s office is developing new absentee ballot application forms and ballot return envelopes that include a space to fill in a driver’s license or state ID number. Otherwise, absentee voters will have to submit copies of documents such as a utility bill or bank statement.
In the meantime for ongoing runoffs, election officials will continue verifying absentee voters by comparing their signatures with signatures kept on file.
“With the runoff going on, transition wasn’t really possible. We had to start with one way of processing absentees and continue on,” Cobb Elections Director Janine Eveler said. “Everything is going well. The turnout isn’t spectacular, but it’s not as slow as I thought it would be.”
The secretary of state’s office didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Another part of the law mandates that all ballots be printed on special security paper that includes features that can verify their authenticity.
That kind of paper was previously used for ballots printed from voting machines, with features that could be detected by an infrared scanner. But the security paper will be new for absentee ballots. The security paper costs 29 cents per ballot, more than double the 13 cents per ballot for ballots printed by voting machines.
Election officials haven’t found counterfeit ballots in last year’s presidential election.
The requirements of Georgia’s voting law have already been incorporated into elections, county election directors said.
“It’s not going to be a big change for us,” said Christy Riner, elections supervisor for Jeff Davis County. “We haven’t had any issues. We didn’t have a bunch of absentees.”
The state House runoffs were scheduled to occur 28 days after the initial elections, as special elections have for years. The new voting law shortens the period before runoffs after general or primary elections, from nine weeks to four weeks.
At least one week of early voting is required before runoffs. Previously, state law required early voting “as soon as possible” before a runoff.
Cobb is providing two weeks of early voting, while other counties such as Jeff Davis are offering a week and a half of early voting.
Parts of Georgia voting law taking effect Thursday
Absentee ballots requests must be made at least 11 days before an election.
ID numbers or documents will be required when requesting and returning absentee ballots.
Special ballot security paper, with features detectable by infrared light, is required for both in-person and absentee ballots.
Absentee ballot mailings will begin later, between 25 and 29 days prior to an election instead of 45 to 49 days beforehand.
Early voting is prohibited on the second Saturday before an election prior to a holiday.
Source: Senate Bill 202
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