by Jonathan Bain
Regardless of one’s political affiliation, it’s not difficult to find voters in Georgia who were discouraged by the messiness of the 2020 election process.
It’s one thing to be disappointed by the outcome. It’s entirely another to feel disenfranchised and frustrated by questions and uncertainties surrounding absentee ballot handling, unsecured drop boxes, and questionable third-party funding of local elections.
In evaluating federal, state, and local voting safeguards, these and other serious complications — glitches, missing votes, even water pipe breakages at polling locations or ballot drop boxes — raised legitimate concerns and weakened voter confidence in Georgia’s election integrity.
Such concerns ultimately weaken voter confidence and decrease participation in elections regardless of political persuasion and prompted Georgia lawmakers to modernize voting laws to make it easier to vote and harder to interfere with Georgia’s elections.
As expected, a few partisan individuals and groups rushed to label Georgia’s new election reform law, the Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021, (SB202) as an act of voter suppression. However, their claims are simply not true: reforms introduced in this legislation expand voting access for all Georgia voters while enhancing the security of the process.
Let’s begin by debunking one of the often repeated and misunderstood points of contention regarding Georgia’s election reform law: the restrictions that third-party groups now face when offering voters food and drink. Instead of allowing third-party groups to solicit or harass voters while they wait in line, Georgia’s new election reforms call for a 25-foot space established around voter lines.
Much of the heated rhetoric around this policy has been inaccurate. Voters waiting in line will still have access to water which can easily be arranged by poll workers. It simply establishes a boundary to prevent solicitation of voters while they wait in line.
More specifically, absentee voting received a much-needed overhaul with this legislation, which will serve only to secure the process. Photo identification will now be required to obtain an absentee ballot, a measure already in place for anyone voting in person.
Requiring an absentee voter ID will ease the burden on poll workers who are presently forced to verify a voter’s identity using a stock signature card the state has on file. This practice significantly slowed vote counting in the past election. Voter ID doesn’t suppress voters, it protects the votes of those eligible to vote in their respective precinct.
During the pandemic, Georgia officials expanded absentee voting to ensure all voters could participate. As we move into a post-pandemic world, fewer absentee ballots will be needed. Georgia’s election reforms reduce the time frame during which voters can request an absentee ballot from 180 days to 11 weeks before Election Day. Eleven weeks is ample time to ensure robust absentee voter participation in any election.
In an effort to reduce partisan fraud and blatant voter manipulation, localities and third-party groups are now barred from sending thousands of unsolicited applications to voters. Many of these applications contained inaccuracies and were deliberately one-sided.
Early voting via drop boxes is a hotly debated topic. Thanks to Georgia’s election reforms, drop boxes will continue to be available to Georgia voters. Before the bill passed, the use of ballot drop boxes was set to expire.
The Election Integrity Act also now incorporates drop boxes as a permanent fixture of Georgia’s election framework — but with greater security. Every county must have an official drop box per 100,000 residents or have a drop box placed at every early voting site. This change improves early voting access while securing drop boxes to prevent tampering or fraud. Finally, to accommodate many working Georgians’ needs, early voting has been expanded by an additional weekend day, and local officials can also add Sunday voting opportunities.
Arguably the most needed reform targets and prohibits third-party funding in elections. In 2020, Mark Zuckerberg used one of his foundations to funnel more than $31 million into county election offices in Georgia during the presidential election and at least another $14.5 million during the Senate run-off election.
Facebook called them “COVID-19 Response Grants”, and the money was to be used for pandemic-related assistance—personal protective equipment (PPE) — so that no voter had to jeopardize their health to vote. Upon further evaluation, only 1.5 percent of funds were spent on protective gear for poll workers. Instead, the majority of money was spent on mail-in voting efforts, election staff, or get-out-the-vote efforts and initiatives. Some of the grant spending remains unreported—leading to further speculation of inappropriate use of the funds.
Even a cursory review of Georgia’s new election law reveals how this new legislation improves voter access while securing the state’s election process. It’s time we ignore the predictable political attacks by activists and politically correct corporations and embrace the new election law as one that will make it easier to vote and harder to cheat.
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Jonathan Bain is a research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Photo “Vote here” by Tony Webster CC 2.0.