ATLANTA – The major rewrite of Georgia’s electoral rules is the first major change since former President Donald Trump’s repeated, unfounded allegations of fraud following his loss of the president to Joe Biden.
Georgia was at the center of this storm. Trump focused on his loss in the state when two Democrats won the US Senate election in January and handed control of the chamber to their party. The 98-page move, signed Thursday by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, makes numerous changes to the way elections are conducted, including a new photo ID for postal voting.
Republican supporters say the law is necessary to restore confidence in the elections in Georgia. Democrats say this will limit access to voting, especially for voters with color. Here’s a look at some of the key issues:
Can the state take over local electoral offices?
Much of the work in managing the elections in Georgia is done by the state’s 159 counties. The law gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county electoral offices and remove and replace local electoral officials. This has raised concerns that the Republican-controlled state board may have more leverage over the administration of the elections, including certifying the county’s results.
A target of intervention could be Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that contains most of Atlanta. The densely populated county has been plagued by problems, including long lines, and it is often singled out by Republican officials. Under the law, the board of directors could intervene in up to four counties at the same time and appoint a temporary superintendent to hire and fire staff, including election officers and election officers.
Are people forbidden from giving snacks or water to voters in line?
The new law makes it an offense to “give money or gifts, including but not limited to food and drink” to anyone standing in line to vote. The ban extends 150 feet from a polling station and 25 feet from anyone standing in line.
Proponents of the law say they are trying to crack down on political organizations or interest groups that are trying to influence voters just before they cast a vote. Critics say it is cruel and would even punish impartial groups or individuals for something as simple as giving water to someone waiting in a long line. Democratic State Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler slammed the proposal Thursday before the bill was signed, saying, “They want to make it a crime to bring Grandma some water while she stands in line.”
Polling stations may or may not have to install self-service water dispensers for voters.
Does the bill eliminate the Sunday voting?
Republicans once proposed limiting early voting on weekends, at a time when many black churches are trying to get parishioners to vote for “souls to vote”. But Republicans have reversed, and the measure now extends the weekend early voting. Previously, an election day was required over the weekend, with the districts having the opportunity to offer more. Now two Saturdays are required, and the counties can also offer two Sunday election days. Republicans refer to this provision to argue that they are actually expanding, rather than restricting, electoral access.
“Contrary to the bipartisan rhetoric you may have heard inside and outside that gold dome, the fact is that this new bill will expand access to elections in Peach State,” Kemp said Thursday.
How will drains change?
Georgia is the only state in the nation that mandates runoff elections between the top two finishers after a general election, in which no candidate wins a majority. Like some other states, Georgia also stipulates runoff elections for candidates who do not win a majority in a party pre-election.
The system was scrutinized by Republicans after Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won two runoff elections in January.
The new law cuts the time for drains from nine to four weeks. Legislators say the current range is “exhausting” and needs to be shortened to a “more manageable period”.
Military and foreign voters use postal ballot voting to evaluate all possible candidates prior to a primary or general election so that their preferences can be determined in a possible runoff election. Georgia had just three weeks before the runoff elections before a federal judge ordered a longer hiatus in 2013 to give military and overseas voters more time to return ballots.
The shorter deadline means less time for early voting and email voting. The early vote lasted three weeks before the runoff elections. Now the early voting would begin “as soon as possible” but no later than the second Monday before the election, with possibly only five days of the week and no weekend days left for the early voting. Voters would also have less time to apply for a postal vote.
No new voters could be registered in the period before a runoff election, as the registration deadline would be the day before the earlier election.
Three groups filed a lawsuit late Thursday to try to block the law. The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Rise Inc. say the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, as well as portions of federal voting rights that state that states can’t restrict black voters’ participation.
“These unjustified measures will individually and cumulatively serve to unconstitutionally burden the right to vote, to deny or curtail the voting rights of black Georgians and to deny black voters in Georgia an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and to vote candidates for their election”, says the lawsuit filed against Georgian Foreign Minister Brad Raffensperger and the Georgian State Elections Board.
Opponents are also looking to Congress, which is considering national voting standards. A Democratically-backed measure was passed earlier this month but has been rejected by Senate Republicans who fear the federal government will take over the state elections.
The federal proposal would create automatic automatic voter registration across the country, allow ex-offenders to vote, and limit the ways states can remove registered voters from their lists. It would expand voting by mail, encourage early voting, and give states money to pursue postal votes.
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