Reprint. Georgia’s new voting law has sparked outrage from Democrats and even been called “Jim Crow on steroids” by President Joe Biden, but many of its provisions have governed elections in other states across the country for years.
From voter ID requirements to ballot drop boxes, and early voting schedules to absentee ballot access, there is little new or unique in the freshly minted Georgia rules. In fact, many of the measures critics are attacking have long been in place in blue states, including Biden’s home state of Delaware.
Peach State Republicans say they passed the law to ensure voter integrity after the 2020 presidential election, which was conducted around the country with new rules put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They say the law is designed to increase access for legal voters but make it harder to commit fraud. But Democrats say the new measures are aimed at suppressing the minority vote. And the bitter battle may be about to begin in Texas, where the state Legislature is weighing its own slate of reforms.
Here is how a law that cost Atlanta the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and prompted celebrities and CEOs alike to attack Georgia Republicans as racists stacks up to the way other states conduct their elections:
EARLY IN-PERSON VOTING
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, has called the law a “despicable voter suppression bill” in part over the changes she says it makes to early voting. Biden has repeatedly said it ends early voting hours before workers can get off of their shifts at 5 p.m.
But the Georgia law actually adds time to the window in which voters can cast their ballots early and in person.
In Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, early voting lasts 11 days, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The new Georgia law, by contrast, expanded the number of early voting days to 17, mandating the polls stay open for early voting on an additional Saturday and leaving open the option for counties to conduct early Sunday voting as well.
Meanwhile, Biden’s home state of Delaware has no in-person early voting. The state Legislature passed reforms setting aside up to 10 days of early voting at some locations, but voters won’t enjoy that access until 2022, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Other blue states have far fewer opportunities for voters to cast their ballots early and in person than Georgia or Texas currently have.
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott lengthened the early in-person voting period to begin 21 days prior to Election Day in 2020; in normal years, it begins 17 days prior.
And the legislation under consideration in the Texas Legislature would give voters ample time to get to the polls within that period — mandating that polls stay open for early voting 12 hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
In deep-blue New York, for example, voters had only nine days of in-person early voting before Election Day in 2020.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, recently signed reform legislation that expanded early in-person voting to nine days. He took the opportunity to slam the Georgia law as restrictive — even though the bill he was touting provided voters in his state just over half the number of early voting days.
“I cannot overlook that this early voting bill passed our Legislature the same day that the governor of Georgia was signing a law restricting the rights of Georgians to vote, even making it a crime to give a voter waiting in line a bottle of water,” said Murphy, parroting a Biden mischaracterization explained below.
Many states dramatically expanded voting by mail ahead of the 2020 election in order to accommodate public health concerns about the pandemic.
But Democrats and voting rights advocates have worked to characterize states’ attempts to return to their pre-COVID-19 standards as stripping people of their right to vote — even in places where the increased volume of mail-in ballots caused confusion and delayed the results in November.
Such was the case in Georgia, where delays counting the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in some counties created confusion that former President Donald Trump and his allies claimed was evidence of fraud.
The new Georgia law shortens the window of time in which voters can request their mail-in ballots; that window will now close two Fridays before Election Day, which supporters say will give voters more time to receive and then mail back their ballots without missing the deadline.
Most states allow the application process to continue closer to Election Day, so this is an area of the Georgia law that critics characterize as restrictive. Thirty-five states allow voters to request their ballot seven days or less before Election Day.
But the difference in when voters can apply for their absentee ballot in Georgia under the new rule isn’t all that significant compared to some blue states. Georgians face a deadline of 11 days before Election Day, but New Yorkers, for example, have a deadline of seven days before.
The Georgia law also left intact the state’s no-excuse absentee voting rules, meaning anyone, regardless of their ability to vote in person, can request a mail-in ballot.
That is more permissive than the vote-by-mail rules in 16 other states that require voters to provide a reason why they need to vote by mail, such as being physically out of state during the election.
Delaware, Connecticut, and New York are among the states that don’t currently offer no-excuse absentee voting.
Voting rights advocates often claim that ID requirements disenfranchise voters of color, and many of them have railed against the Georgia law for its voter ID provisions.
But the Georgia reforms simply extended existing ID requirements — voters must show ID to vote in person in Georgia — to voting by mail. Voters now need to list their driver’s license or state ID number on their application for an absentee ballot, and election workers will use that to verify ballots in lieu of signature matching, which critics say is much more subjective.
If a Georgia voter has no ID, they can list the last four digits of their Social Security number instead.
Georgia is far from the only state that asks voters for documentation of their identity.
Thirty-six states request at least some form of documentation in order to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
That includes Democratic-controlled states such as Connecticut and Delaware, which both ask voters to prove their identities in some circumstances or to sign affidavits under penalty of law if they don’t have the documents.
And despite coming under fire for considering new voting reforms, Texas does not have a strict voter ID law and isn’t proposing one currently. Texas voters can submit other proof of their identities, such as a utility bill or paycheck, and still cast their ballots without a driver’s license.
Critics of the Georgia law have also misleadingly claimed that it takes ballot drop boxes away from voters and therefore eliminates opportunities to vote.
But the Peach State did not allow the use of any drop boxes prior to 2020, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp authorized them on an emergency basis due to the pandemic.
For the first time, the Georgia Legislature voted to authorize drop boxes on a permanent basis. While there may be fewer available in some counties than there were in 2020, voters would not have the option at all if Republican lawmakers hadn’t written it into their bill.
In doing so, Georgia joined a relatively small group of states that has laws on the books specifically authorizing the use of drop boxes. Just eight other states have such laws, although many more states allowed voters to deposit their ballots in drop boxes during the 2020 election.
FOOD AND WATER
A headline-grabbing provision in the Georgia law was a ban on political or voting rights groups distributing food and water to voters within 150 feet of a polling location. The practice, which critics call “line warming,” is now a misdemeanor under the new rules.
Supporters said it closed a loophole in existing laws that prohibited politically affiliated organizations from trying to sway voters as they waited outside their polling places to cast their ballots.
Nonpartisan election workers can still set up self-service stations where thirsty voters can help themselves to water as they stand in line.
Other states have bans on campaigns or political groups enticing voters with snacks at the polls.
Colorado, for example, allows only “comfort teams” to provide food and water within 100 feet of a polling location and prohibits members of those teams from campaigning or wearing campaign apparel if they are within that perimeter.
New York also bans providing food and drink to voters at polling locations — except if the value of what’s being given is less than $1 and offered by a person who does not identify themselves as a representative of a party or political group.12