Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a sweeping voting bill into law on Thursday, making Georgia the first battleground state to enact major changes to its election laws after last year’s tumultuous election.
The GOP effort comes after a disastrous few months for Republicans in the state that included President Biden’s victory in the November general election and Democratic wins in two January Senate runoffs.
The law rewrites large sections of the state’s election laws and seeks to tighten voting procedures in ways that Democrats and voting rights advocates say will curtail voting access and disenfranchise voters across the state.
Here’s a look at some of what will change under the new voting law.
It creates a voter ID requirement for absentee voting
Democrats took advantage of Georgia’s no-excuse absentee voting policy in the 2020 general election and January Senate runoffs, utilizing a method of voting that has long been favored by Republicans.
The new elections law, however, looks to tighten the rules for absentee voting by requiring voters to provide a driver’s license or state ID card number to request and submit their absentee ballots.
Previously, election workers relied on a signature-matching process to verify absentee ballots that involved comparing a voter’s signature on a ballot to the signature on file for that individual.
To be sure, signature-matching is often something of a subjective process and has led to some votes, including many legally cast ballots, going uncounted because of inconsistencies in signatures.
But the new voter ID requirement for absentee ballots has angered voter rights advocates, who say it will make it more difficult for many people, especially low-income voters and racial and ethnic minorities, to use the absentee balloting system.
It limits the use of ballot drop boxes
Georgia began allowing the use of ballot drop boxes last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And while the new law will allow for them to remain permanent fixtures of the state’s elections process, it also looks to curtail their use.
Under the law, ballot drop boxes will have to be located in early-voting locations and can only be accessible when those polling sites are open.
What’s more, those drop boxes won’t be available in the last four days of an election, when drop boxes become particularly useful because of potential postage delays that could cause the ballot to arrive late to elections offices.
The law mandates at least one drop box per county. But it also limits additional drop boxes to either one per 100,000 registered voters or one per voting location, depending on which is fewer.
Trump railed against the use of drop boxes last year, claiming that they were vulnerable to tampering and voter fraud despite the fact that drop boxes have been used without incident for years in many jurisdictions.
It gives state lawmakers sweeping control over elections
State lawmakers and the Georgia State Elections Board are set to gain new powers under the law, while the secretary of state will be stripped of one of its key roles.
The law allows the State Elections Board to temporarily suspend county elections directors and boards that it deems in need of review. At the same time, the secretary of state will be removed as chair of the state board and will be made an ex-officio, nonvoting member.
Those provisions have raised particular concerns among Democrats, who say that it will give far-reaching control over state and local elections procedures to partisan legislators and allow them to determine, for example, which ballots to count.
The provision stripping the secretary of state of its top role on the State Elections Board comes after the current secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, repeatedly rejected former President Trump’s requests to overturn his loss in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.
It shortens the time frame for runoff elections and ends the “jungle primary” system for special elections
In a move that appears to be a thinly veiled response to the GOP’s joint losses in the two Jan. 5 Senate runoffs, the new elections law in Georgia looks to get rid of the all-party primary system — often called “jungle primaries” — for special elections, while shortening the runoff election timeline by five weeks.
Former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and former Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) spent most of the last year sparring with one another in a jungle primary to serve out the remainder of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s (R-Ga.) term in office.
Loeffler eventually beat Collins in the November election, but failed to garner enough support for an outright win, pitting her against Democrat Raphael Warnock in a Jan. 5 runoff. The state’s other Senate race also advanced to a runoff, with former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) facing off against Democrat Jon Ossoff.
By doing away with the jungle primary system, Republicans are hoping to avoid a future repeat of Loeffler and Collins’s drawn-out battle that effectively allowed Warnock to avoid the most aggressive GOP attacks for much of the race.
The bill also seeks to head off the kind of lengthy runoff campaign that followed the November general elections, cutting the runoff period down from nine weeks to just four weeks and leaving less time for early voting, which benefited Democrats ahead of the January runoffs.
It expands weekend early voting, but cuts short the deadline for request absentee ballots
Republicans have pushed back on allegations that the new law seeks to suppress the vote, pointing to a provision in the bill that expands weekend early in-person voting by requiring two early voting dates on Saturdays and giving counties the option to hold early voting on two Sundays.
The law also mandates three weeks of early in-person voting and requires early-voting sites to be open for at least eight hours and up to 12 hours.
But Democrats take issue with a series of provisions that they say are intended to limit absentee voting.
The law sets a new deadline for requesting absentee ballots at 11 days out from an election instead of four. What’s more, it bars state and local officials from sending out unsolicited absentee ballot request applications to registered voters, a step that Raffensperger’s office took last year ahead of the state’s June primary elections.
The law also looks to tighten rules around third-party groups, requiring them to more clearly label absentee ballot applications sent to voters. Another provision bars volunteers from passing out food or drinks to voters waiting in line to cast their ballot — something seen last year as voters in certain jurisdictions faced hours-long waits.