ATLANTA — Georgia’s new elections law, also known as Senate Bill 202, have stirred much debate across the United States.
Republicans have claimed it actually expands voter access in the state. Gov. Brian Kemp has repeatedly defended the new elections law, calling it a necessary step to protect Georgia’s elections.
Democrats have equated it with “Jim Crow” laws and contend it is more about voter suppression. Several civil rights groups have filed a 92-page federal lawsuit asking a federal judge to declare it unconstitutional.
Both sides have made their claims about the law, but what is actually in the final version? Here’s a breakdown of what was signed into law in Senate Bill 202.
Georgia voters were already required to present a photo ID when voting in person. Under the new law, voters must also now have some form of identification to vote by mail.
For most, that identification will be either a driver’s license or state ID card. When a voter applies for an absentee ballot and returns the ballot, electors must include a copy of either the license or state ID card. If a voter does not have one, the law requires them to include a photo copy of another form of an accepted ID.
[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]
If the voter does not have the license or state ID, their date of birth and last four digits of their social security must be submitted with their ballot; if the voter does not have a Social Security number, they must include a photocopy of another form of accepted identification.
Republicans argue that photo ID is a more “objective” way to verify a voter’s identity than the “subjective” signature matching process.
Georgians can get a state ID for free. But critics of the law say potential eligible voters who will face hurdles without a license or state ID number are also most likely to lack the alternative documents, like a birth certificate, and that would keep them from obtaining a state ID card.
Under Georgia’s new law, election officials are not allowed to mail absentee ballot applications to voters unless they request one. Third parties, who have sent ballots in the past, must now include a disclosure that says they are not government officials and that it is not an official ballot.
Voters can request a ballot starting 78 days before Election day. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is 11 days before Election Day. Previously, voters in most counties allowed requests to begin 180 days before and last until the Friday before the election.
Another point of debate is how absentee ballot boxes will work moving forward. Georgia did not have absentee ballot drop boxes prior to the 2020 election. In 2020, counties could add absentee ballot drop boxes after an emergency rule was enacted by the State Election Board. The boxes were required to be under 24/7 video surveillance and on “government property generally accessible to the public.”
Gov. Kemp said the new law makes ballot drop boxes an official part of Georgia election law, which is true. The new law requires every county have at least one drop box. In November 2020, every Georgia county was allowed to, but not required to have a drop box available to voters.
However, there are limits to the drop boxes. Drop boxes can now only be placed inside early voting locations and will only be available during voting hours.
Drops boxes are also capped at one per 100,000 active voters or one for every early voting location and the county chooses whichever is the smaller of the two.
In Fulton County, eight drop boxes will be allowed under the new law, compared to 38 that were available to voters in November 2020. In Cobb County, officials had 16 drop boxes available in November but will be permitted about five under the new law.
Another change with absentee ballots: election officials can begin scanning ballots that have been verified on the third Monday before the election. At least three registrars, deputy registrars, poll workers or absentee ballot clerks must be present before starting and at all times.
Gov. Brian Kemp has argued that the new law expands early voting. It does add an extra Saturday to the previous early voting period and allows counties to offer two Sunday voting days as well.
However, critics have said this only helps the rural counties expand voter access and doesn’t help the metropolitan areas.
Early voting can take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during weekdays, but counties have the option to extend hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Early voting has become a point of emphasis for Republican leaders after Major League Baseball moved its All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado.
Colorado offers 15 days of early voting compared to Georgia’s 17 days of early voting. However, the context of how most people in Colorado vote is important. Colorado has a universal vote-by-mail system and every active registered voter is automatically mailed a ballot without having to specifically request one.
FOOD AND WATER IN VOTING LINES
The law makes it a misdemeanor for people to hand out “any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink” to anyone standing in line to vote. It applies within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of any voter at a polling site.
Election workers are allowed to set up self-service water stations for voters in line.
Advocates of this say they are attempting to crack down on political organizations or advocacy groups trying to influence voters just before they cast a ballot.
Critics say it would penalize even nonpartisan groups or individuals for something as simple as giving water to someone waiting in a long line.
The Gwinnett County general solicitor says he will not prosecute people who hand out food or water to people waiting in line to vote as long as they are doing it in a non-partisan way.
SECRETARY OF STATE ROLE
The new law gives the state election board added power to take over any county election office for underperforming.
The bill also gives the general assembly more say over the state election board. It strips the chairmanship from the secretary of state and instead lawmakers will choose the chair.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger told Channel 2 Action News that he is a supporter of the new Election Integrity Act for the most part, but he did have an issue with the provision that strips him of the chairmanship.
“Who do you actually hold accountable if you don’t like the decision? Whereas before, if a decision was made you could hold the elected official that was the chairman. That was me,” Raffensperger said. “For over 60 years, the secretary of state has chaired that board.”
Under the law, the board could intervene in up to four counties at a time and install a temporary superintendent with the ability to hire and fire personnel including elections directors and poll officers.
Fair Fight Action CEO Lauren Groh-Wargo said the bill “allows for a complete takeover of county boards of election and the State Elections Board itself by partisan politicians in the state legislature,” calling it “a disgraceful power grab.”
OTHER NOTABLE CHANGES
Counties will be required to certify election results within six days, instead of the 10 days currently allowed.
Election officials are required to post the total number of ballots by 10 p.m. on Election Night. Workers will also be required to count ballots without stopping until they’re finished.
The new law shortens the time for runoffs from nine weeks to four, with lawmakers saying the current span is “exhausting” and needs to be shortened to a “more manageable period.”
The shorter period means less time for early and mail voting. Instead of three weeks before runoffs, early voting would begin “as soon as possible” but no later than the second Monday before the election.
Mobile units are now considered illegal unless the governor declares a state of emergency. Fulton County leaders feel that provision unfairly targets them.
There will be a hotline set up in the Georgia attorney general’s office for people to report illegal election activities.
The Associated Press and ABC News contributed to this report.