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Will Georgia voting laws reduce turnout? Maybe not, studies show

Mark Niesse, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — When Georgia Republicans passed a new voting law, voting rights groups feared democracy-shattering barriers would undermine elections.

But a body of research on voting rules such as those in Georgia doesn’t support the narrative that turnout will decline significantly because of the law.

Studies in Georgia and across the nation indicate that almost all voters who want to vote will find a way to cast their ballots despite tougher ID requirements, limits on ballot drop boxes and a shorter early voting period before runoffs.

While Georgia’s law reduces the ease of voting in several ways, particularly for those using absentee ballots, that doesn’t necessarily mean a lot of people will be prevented from casting ballots in upcoming elections, such as this fall’s race for Atlanta mayor or next year’s statewide vote.

Still, even relatively small numbers of voters unable to participate could swing election outcomes in Georgia, a battleground state where November’s presidential election was decided by fewer than 12,000 votes.

Academic research shows that voter ID laws have little to no effect on turnout. One nationwide study found that expansions of absentee voting in some states in last year’s election didn’t alter turnout. A federal government report that summarized elections research said the evidence is mixed on whether early voting or no-excuse absentee voting made a difference in turnout.

 

Voting rights advocates say they’re convinced Georgia’s voting law will have a negative impact.

“We cannot outorganize this level of intensity, this ongoing assault on voting rights,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, an organization that mobilizes African Americans to vote. “It is just too big of a burden to bear.”

Future elections will show whether the law stems Georgia’s steadily rising turnout over the past 25 years, reaching a record 5 million in November’s presidential election.

A variety of studies indicate that regulations on absentee voting are more likely to encourage in-person voting than to prevent people from voting at all.

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