Georgia voting law explained: Here's what to know about the state's new election rules

Chelsey Cox, USA TODAY
·5 min read
Ann White demonstrates at the Georgia State Capitol building after lawmakers passed an overhaul of state election laws.

State lawmakers in Georgia overhauled its existing election protocol last month with the passage of a law that includes restrictions some activists say haven't been seen since the Jim Crow era.

Democrats and civil-rights groups panned the voting bill, and major Georgia-based corporations came out against the bill after it was passed. GOP state lawmakers who backed the bill and other Republicans nationwide harshly criticized the backlash, calling for boycotts of brands like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.

Supporters have also argued the changes will restore voters' confidence in the election process and make elections more secure. But civil-rights advocates say the restrictions are aimed at voter suppression, particularly for Black voters.

The election reforms came after President Joe Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by a narrow 11,779 votes in Georgia in last year's general election. Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff also won two Senate runoff elections in January, which flipped control of the U.S. Senate.

Biden called the law "un-American" and described it as a "blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscious."

Trump also slammed the bill, but he deemed the measure "too weak."

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and likeminded Republicans have defended the law since its passage, with the governor insisting it expands access to voting.

What's actually in Georgia's new election law? Here's what you need to know about Senate Bill 202:

When does Georgia's election law go into effect?

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill on March 31. Certain provisions will go into effect on July 1:

  • Special ballots will be created for nonpartisan elections

  • Ballots must be printed in black and white ink on security paper

  • A cutoff date of 11 days before a primary, general election or runoff election for mail-in ballot applications

  • A deadline for the issuance of absentee ballots at least 25 days before a federal primary, general election or special election or 22 days before a municipal general election or primary

  • A Georgia state driver's license number, ID card number, date of birth and the last four digits of a social security number or another approved form of identification must be printed on the outside of an absentee ballot

  • Conditions for rejecting absentee ballots if certain requirements are not met

What about early voting?

The law expands in-person early voting for general elections, according to The AJC. Two early-voting periods are required on a Saturday for each county, with optional voting on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (hours may be extended to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.).

In prior elections, early voting began on the fourth Monday before a primary or election and ended the Friday before an election day, according to the state's official website. For runoff elections, voting began as soon as possible before election day.

Some leaders of Georgia's Black churches say the new schedule will affect voting after church services, also known as "souls to the polls."

The voting period for runoff elections was also shortened from nine weeks to four weeks.

Refreshments for voters waiting in line

The law bans people aside from poll workers from soliciting votes or signatures from voters. The distribution or display of campaign materials is also restricted to 150 feet of the "outer edge" of a polling location or within 25 feet of a person waiting in line to vote. Offering money and gifts – including food or drink – to a voter is prohibited. In a rebuke of the proposal last month, Georgia Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat, said Republican lawmakers "want to make it a crime to bring Grandma some water while she’s waiting in line.”

Voters have waited hours in long lines at polling places in recent elections, especially in Black neighborhoods.

Poll officers are permitted to distribute materials encouraging voter participation as required by law. Officers may also make self-service water available to voters.

Training for poll watchers

Training provided by the political party, political body or candidate designating the poll watcher is a prerequisite for qualifying for or being appointed a poll watcher. Those responsible for designating poll watchers must attest to their training under oath.

New rules for ballot drop boxes

A board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk may supply one drop box for absentee by mail voters at the respective offices or inside advanced voting locations. Additional drop boxes are restricted to one per 100,000 active registered voters in a county or the number of advanced voting locations. The boxes are only accessible during advanced voting.

The number of drop boxes for Georgia's four most populous counties, Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett, will drop from 94 in 2020 to 23 in 2022, according to The Times.

Deadlines for tabulating absentee ballots

Elections superintendents must report the returns of verified and accepted absentee ballots by 5 p.m. the day following an election day. In the event of a missed deadline, the State Election Board may convene to conduct an independent review.

In prior elections, absentee ballots were accepted until 7 p.m. on an election day. The law allowed a week to finalize and certify the final vote count, according to the AJC.

What about mobile voting buses?

The mobile voting program was launched in Fulton County, Georgia – where Atlanta is located – near the end of 2020 in part to service voters with disabilities, according to the county's official website. The buses were also alternatives to long lines at polling locations.

The new law restricts buses and "other readily movable" facilities to emergency use only. County superintendents may provide portable polling facilities for a given precinct at their discretion.

New role for Georgia's secretary of state

Prior to the passing of the new law, the secretary of state served as chair of the State Election Board. The role was demoted to an ex-officio nonvoting member of the board. A new chairperson will be elected by the General Assembly.

The move allows a Republican-controlled board to temporarily take over local election offices, according to NPR. Some critics also suggest the provision is an act of revenge against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who would not abide by Trump's request to overturn the results of the presidential election, according to The New York Times.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Georgia voting law: Here's what to know about the new election rules