What Georgia’s new election law means for absentee voting

Chatham County election official react to absentee voter ID law
Chatham County election official react to absentee voter ID law(WTOC)
Updated: Apr. 13, 2021 at 4:08 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - The new election law in Georgia has pitted corporate executives against state lawmakers.

Since the governor signed Senate Bill 202 into law, public outrage has grown over the past few weeks. It is the reason why Major League Baseball decided to move its All-Star game out of Atlanta.

But for Savannah and Chatham County voters, what exactly does the new law mean for you and what will be different the next time you cast a ballot?

The biggest changes have to do with absentee voting. Earlier deadlines to request a ballot, changes to how you fill it out and where you can drop it off.

But the impact of those changes will likely affect those who vote in person, too.

Chatham County Board of Registrars Chairman Colin McRae oversees the process for absentee ballots and early voting in the county. He predicts the changes to Georgia’s election law will mean longer lines at the polls.

“Because there are going to be so many restrictions as to absentee balloting, that will inevitably mean that fewer will vote by absentee. For every person who does not vote by absentee, theoretically, that is one more person to vote in person,” McRae said.

No one knows for sure how the new law will change voter behavior. But one thing we do know is absentee voting was wildly popular in Georgia and Chatham County during the 2020 General Election.

“Record numbers, by orders of magnitude over what we had seen previously. People really enjoy absentee balloting.”

And going forward, it will not be the same experience.

“First of all, the period of time within which you can absentee vote is significantly curtailed. It used to be 180 days. Now I think it’s 78 days,” McRae said. “It used to be that you could request an absentee ballot up to the Friday before election day. For these phantom reasons, that I’m not sure about, the legislature has decided well that’s too close to election day. So, now it’s 11 days out from election day.”

Signature verification was a process heavily used during the last election, but with the law changes that is no longer a system that can used. How will that affect voters and staff?

“We all have unique signatures that we affix to documents whether they be election documents or otherwise. Each time someone goes to a polling place and signs in or every time you apply for an absentee ballot or when you register to vote. We have all these signatures on file,” McRae said.

The new process allows the voter to simply take their Georgia driver’s license or state issued identification and write the number down. That number is what staff will use to verify the voter.

“If this entire process is intended to address potential fraud, potential misappropriation, harvesting, whatever, it seems to me as a humble election official that it’s much harder to duplicate a unique signature than it is to simply write down a driver’s license number,” McRae said.

Misinformation that’s spread with the new law has created some confusion about the changes regarding driver’s licenses.

“Because of misinformation people think, “oh now I have to like photocopy my ID and put it in the ballot.” That is a common but mistakenly held belief. That is not at all what the law provides for, and in fact that misinformation will lead to be doing exactly that. wrong you will get a cure letter because the information has to be on the outside,” McRae said.

It’s important to note that if a voter does not have a Georgia issued ID or driver’s license, the law does allow other forms of identification, such as a passport or U.S. Military ID, to be submitted either as a photocopy or electronically.

The new law also changes when and where you can drop off your absentee ballot if you do not drop it in the mail.

“Now it’s only one drop box per 100,000 registered voters per county. So, we had at times 10 or 11 absentee ballot drop off boxes, now we’ll have two,” McRae said. “They have to be located at an early voting site and they have to be indoors. And the big kicker about it is they are only accessible during the hours the early voting site is open. So, after hours, if you want to drop it off on your way home from work. You are not going to be able to do that. So that’s kind of a hidden restriction in this.”

Under the new law election workers cannot stop the count once it’s started on Election Day.

But in Chatham County, the count did stop overnight as registrar staff worked to process absentee ballots that arrived that day and needed to be verified through a signature match before they could be counted.

Board of Elections Chairman Tom Mahoney explained how Chatham County could continue the count back then and will comply with the new law.

“We were prepared to continue counting through the night non-stop and we will be prepared to do that again with multiple shifts. The problem was at that time is that we did not have anything left to count. There were still absentee ballots coming in all the way up until the close of polls on election day,” Mahoney said.

Under the new law, the election certification deadline is moved up four days. So, is it feasible for Chatham County to meet the new deadline?

“I think it’s feasible, but we’re going to be in a difficult environment of counting votes because we’re going to have a to allocate our resources, machines and personnel and try to figure out how people are going to vote.”

And that’s the big unknown - How will the new law change voting patterns?

The best way to understand all the changes and the premise for why lawmakers say the needed to make changes is to take the time to read the 98-page document below:

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