Republicans in Georgia on Thursday passed a far-reaching overhaul of the state’s election laws that voting rights groups say will target the Black residents who make up roughly a third of the state’s population.
African Americans in Georgia proved crucial to recent Democratic victories, helping the party win the White House and seize the majority in the US Senate. Exit polls show 88% of the Black electorate supported President Joe Biden last November. And in January, Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock saw even bigger support, capturing 92% and 93% of the Black vote in their runoff elections, respectively.
Here are several provisions of the new law that voting rights activists argue could harm Black Georgians and other voters of color in the state:
Identification for absentee voting
In last year’s general election, a record 1.3 million Georgians — or more than a quarter of the 2020 electorate — voted absentee amid the coronavirus pandemic. And a greater share of Black Georgians than White residents cast their ballots remotely.
The new law does away with signature matching to identify voters who cast absentee ballots. Instead, voters requesting an absentee ballot now will have to provide the number of their Georgia’s driver’s license number or state identification, along with other identifying information such as their date of birth. Those who lack those forms of identification can submit copies of other paperwork, such as a copy of a bank statement or a current utility bill.
Voting rights groups say the new requirements erect too many barriers.
In all, about 200,000 Georgians lack a driver’s license or state identification card, state figures show. And a lawsuit challenging the Georgia law filed Thursday night on behalf of three voting rights groups — The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise, Inc. — argues that Black voters are less likely than other voters to have the identification now required.
During last June’s primary, some voters stood for hours in the Georgia heat to cast their ballots, and voting stretched on for hours after polls were supposed to close.
An analysis of data collected by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica found a significant disparity in who had to wait the longest: The average wait time after the 7 p.m. scheduled poll-closing time was 51 minutes in polling places that were 90% or more non-White. But it was just six minutes in polling places where 90% of the voters were White.
Voting rights advocates say that makes it all the more troubling that Georgia’s law now makes it a misdemeanor to approach a voter in line to provide food or water.
Previously Georgia voters could cast provisional ballots if they showed up at the wrong precinct, and their votes still would count once the board of elections determined that they had cast their ballots in the right county.
The new law tosses out all out-of-precinct votes cast before 5 p.m.
The lawsuit brought by the voting rights groups argues that Black voters are more likely than White voters to move frequently. As a result, they are more likely to change precincts and show up at the wrong one on Election Day, activists argue.
Bans mobile units
Fulton County, where roughly 45% of the population is African American, bought RV-sized mobile voting units to encourage early voting and reduce long lines on Election Day.
The law now bans their use.
Voting hours and drop boxes
The law now requires officials to house drop boxes for absentee ballots inside early voting locations, which limits their usefulness. The law also specifies that early voting hours must run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but it gives county registrars the flexibility to extend hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Voting advocates argue that Black voters are more likely to work multiple jobs than Georgians of other races and limiting their access to drop boxes closes off yet another avenue to the franchise.
The law says any Georgian can challenge the voting eligibility of an unlimited number of voters. Activists say this will make it to easier for conservative groups to attempt to purge large groups of Black voters or others they think will support Democrats.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund argues it could lead to “unchecked voter intimidation.”
Attempts to challenge voters’ eligibility are not new. Ahead of January US Senate runoffs, Texas-based conservative organization True the Vote paired up with the Georgia Republican Party and tried to challenge more than 360,000 Georgia voters that it said may have changed addresses. Most counties declined to take up the matter.
Georgia’s law adds a new provision that allows the State Elections Board to sanction counties that refuse to comply with the provision allowing unlimited challenges.