Special Georgia House committee approves new absentee ballot request deadline

In their first meeting Thursday the House Special Committee on Election Integrity approved a bill that would push up the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot in Georgia.

The bill, sponsored by committee Chairman Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, would change the deadline from the Friday before Election Day to two Fridays before Election Day. 

The current Friday deadline only allows a short window for county elections workers to mail a ballot to a voter on Friday, for the postal service to deliver it, for the voter to then fill out the ballot and for USPS to deliver it back to the elections office before the polls close the following Tuesday.  

"Our Georgia law is basically almost constructed to allow citizens to fail to get their absentee ballots in time and we had a lot of that in this past election," Rep. Fleming explained.

RELATED: Georgia GOP lawmakers introduce bills to limit mail voting

A record number of Georgians requested absentee ballots during the 2020 election cycle, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  According to information from the Secretary of State's Office, only about 4,100 ballots were returned after the Election Day deadline for the November election.

Democrats on the committee expressed concerns about shortening the request window.

"I just think when you start taking things away from people then you're suppressing the vote and I just think that we have to be very, very careful on that," said Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale.  

The committee approved the bill along party lines, but Rep. Burnough and other Democrats plan to offer amendments when the Rules Committee hears the bill.  

Burnough's amendment would change the language from "no absentee by mail ballot shall be mailed or issued by the registrars or absentee ballot clerk if there are less than ten days remaining before a primary or election" to "the registar or absentee ballot clerk shall mail an absentee by mail ballot to any eligible voter who requests an absentee by mail ballot ten or more days before an election."  

That change would allow elections officials to continue to process absentee ballot requests in the week before an election without more coming into the office.  

Rep. Kimberly Alexander, D-Hiram, and Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus have also drafted an amendment that would shorten the time from ten days to just five.  

The legislation would not impact the state's early voting period.  

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