ATLANTA - Much of the conversation surrounding Georgia's new election law has focused on the ban on distributing water and snacks to voters in line, but the 98-page bill included many more changes.
One of the biggest revisions in the "Election Integrity Act of 2021" is the role of the Secretary of State. Under the new law, the secretary is no longer the chair of the State Election Board and, instead, a non-voting member of the board.
Moving forward, the General Assembly will elect a "nonpartisan" chairperson to oversee the board.
The law also gives the State Election Board the power to suspend and even remove up to four local elections superintendents at once and appoint temporary superintendents in their place.
In the future, counties will not be able to accept any outside funding, like grants, for election administration. In 2020, several Georgia counties used grant money to purchase absentee ballot drop boxes, as well as provide personal protective equipment and hazard pay to poll workers.
Under the updated law, if voters had to wait more than an hour to check-in at their precinct on Election Day, local officials must take action before the next election. For precincts with more than 2,000 assigned voters, they must reduce that number or add voting machines and poll workers.
The act prohibits the use of mobile voting precincts unless in an emergency declared by the governor.
The "Election Integrity Act of 2021" expands early in-person voting to 17 days by adding one Saturday and gives counties the option to include two additional Sundays of advance voting.
In contrast, the absentee ballot request period is shorter. The new deadline to request an absentee ballot is 11 days before Election Day and voters must include their Georgia Driver's License or state ID number on their application. Voters without a state-issued ID must include a photocopy of a utility bill, pay check or government check.
When it is time to return their absentee ballots, voters in large counties will find fewer absentee drop boxes. The state allowed counties to set up drop boxes under an emergency rule by the State Election Board. The new law makes drop boxes permanent. So, all 159 counties will be required to have one, but it caps the number of drop boxes in each county to one per 100,000 registered voters. Fulton County had about 40 drop boxes in November 2020 and would be capped at about 8.
The law also restricts the placement and use of drop boxes. They must be located inside an early voting location, except during a public health emergency. The boxes can only be open during early voting hours.
In 2020, the Secretary of State's Office sent absentee ballot applications to all active Georgia voters because of the pandemic. The new law forbids state and local officials from sending those applications in the future without a specific request from a voter.
The act also limits how Georgians vote provisionally. Prior to this law, voters who went to the wrong precinct on Election Day could vote a provisional ballot. Now, provisional ballots will only count if a voter casts it after 5 p.m. and provides a reason as to why they cannot make it to their assigned precinct before the polls close.
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