Setting the Record Straight on Georgia’s New Voter-Access Law

Elections
People cast their ballots during early voting for the presidential elections at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Ga., October 12, 2020. (Chris Aluka Berry/Reuters)

Ignore the partisan disinformation. Georgia remains a national leader in voting access and election security.

What is most incredible about what has happened over the past week in Georgia is the speed with which liberal politicians and their allies went from condemning election disinformation to wholeheartedly spreading it. If we were not so used to the hypocrisy, it might have given us whiplash.

Case in point is Georgia senator Raphael Warnock. In a fundraising email sent soon after SB 202 — Georgia’s new voter-access law — was passed, he falsely accused Georgia Republicans of waging “a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights” by “ending no-excuse mail voting” and “restricting early voting on weekends.” I realize that Senator Warnock is a new lawmaker, but he should at least read the bill in question before tossing out completely false claims. SB 202 leaves no-excuse absentee voting in place and expands early voting in Georgia by mandating an additional day of weekend voting in all Georgia counties. It also continues Sunday voting in counties that want it.

Not to be outdone, President Biden alleged that SB 202’s new photo-ID-number requirement for absentee ballots “will effectively deny the right to vote to countless voters.” He should tell that to the majority of Georgia voters, Georgia Democrats, and black voters in Georgia who supported the commonsense effort. Studies show that voter-ID laws don’t decrease turnout. Georgia’s voter-turnout numbers and percentages have hit records repeatedly since we introduced photo ID for in-person voting.  

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In his statement, Biden also alleged that the new law “ends voting hours early.” Even the left-leaning Washington Post agreed that wasn’t true, giving the claim four Pinocchios and saying “there’s no evidence that is the case.”

The reality is that Georgia remains a national leader in access to the polls.

Georgia has the most successful automatic voter-registration program in the country. Automatically registering eligible voters through the Georgia Department of Driver Services, which confirms citizenship prior to registration, makes it easier for eligible voters to vote, and ensures that election officials have accurate, up-to-date information. Notably, President Biden’s home state of Delaware does not offer this to voters.

Stacey Abrams is pushing for just 15 days of early voting, below the 16 days Georgia has offered its voters for years. SB 202 has built on that, requiring 17 days of early voting at minimum, including two Saturdays. By contrast, Abrams recently praised New Jersey for having nine days of early voting. If more access is better, how is nine days praiseworthy but 17 suppressive? Ditto for President Biden. His home state of Delaware doesn’t offer any early voting. And though Georgia voters can request an absentee ballot without explanation, President Biden’s home state of Delaware still requires an excuse.

President Biden, Senator Warnock, and the other critics of Georgia’s new law care more about whipping up outrage among their base than talking about actual policy. If they looked at the facts, they’d discover that SB 202 makes some commonsense adjustments following an election stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation moves Georgia from the subjective signature-match identity-verification process for absentee-ballot voting to objective ID numbers from photo IDs, free voter IDs, or other documents. I introduced this concept last year with the absentee-ballot-request portal, and it won bipartisan praise. With such close elections, moving to an objective standard takes pressure off of our local election officials.

It is also convenient for voters. Over 97 percent of Georgia’s voters have a driver’s-license number associated with their voter-registration record.

To ensure voters actually get their absentee ballots in time to cast them, SB 202 puts reasonable deadlines in place for receiving absentee-ballot applications and sending out absentee ballots, and moves Georgia closer in line with other state timelines. The massive increase in absentee ballots last year stressed Georgia’s election system. Over 500,000 people requested an absentee ballot but showed up in person anyway. This slowed down in-person voting and increased the possibility of double voting.

SB 202 takes steps to cut down voting lines. If voters have to wait more than an hour on Election Day, the relevant county has to add voting equipment or split the precinct if there are too many voters assigned to that precinct. The bill directs voters to cast ballots in their assigned precincts, eliminating the extra steps for processing out-of-precinct voters that lead to long lines.

The bill also takes steps to minimize the voter confusion that undermines integrity in elections. SB 202 requires third-party groups to clearly identify who they are on absentee-ballot applications they send to voters. My office received countless calls from individuals who thought they were sent several absentee ballots because third-party organizations kept sending request forms. SB 202 codifies the early processing of absentee ballots to allow for quicker posting of results and more transparency. It also requires counties to publish the total number of absentee ballots they received during the election soon after the polls close to avoid the perception that ballots came in after the deadline.

SB 202 clarifies that giving away food or drink within 150 feet of a polling place is considered campaigning and is not allowed. The polling place should be a place where voters are free from pressure and influence and can cast their vote in peace and confidence. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is little controversy about the same rules in New York, on which the Georgia’s legislature modeled their own provision. Never mind that if outraged groups were truly interested in just making sure waiting voters got water, they would be more than satisfied with giving the water to the poll manager to distribute, as allowed by SB 202. These groups can also just stand 25 feet away from voting lines and 150 feet from the precinct and let voters comes to them.

The bill also includes more practical measures that will help smooth election administration. Counties can now hire poll workers from neighboring counties if needed and if the neighboring county has enough of their own staff. It also requires political parties to train their poll watchers on relevant laws and regulations.

If these things sound like commonsense solutions, that’s because they are. SB 202 will increase confidence in our election system, ease the burden on local election officials, and expand access to the polls. If the bill seems different from the way it has been described in the media, that’s because the critics are misrepresenting it to spin up outrage and fundraise off of their base.

After the 2020 election, we should all be able to agree that spreading disinformation about elections is wrong. Instead, the liberal outrage machine is running at full steam on SB 202, putting fundraising over facts. But I know better than most that truth matters in elections. I’ll keep telling the truth about our election systems, even though I know President Biden, Senator Warnock, and Stacey Abrams care more about money and partisan outrage.

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