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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

The impact of requiring absentee voters to provide additional proof of their identities is likely “pretty close to zero,” said Trey Hood, a University of Georgia political science professor who has studied voter ID laws.

Absentee voters will have to provide a driver’s license or state ID number, and those who lack those forms of ID can provide a photocopy of other ID, such as a U.S. passport, utility bill or bank statement. Until this year, election officials verified absentee voters by checking the handwriting of their signatures and confirming their voter registration information.

“People will adjust and comply with the law, and most people are already in compliance,” Hood said. “I used to have to sign my ballot, and now I’ve got to put my driver’s license number on my ballot envelope. Well, that’s not much of a hassle.”

Hood found that voter ID requirements for in-person voting that began in 2008 in Georgia reduced turnout that year by four-tenths of a percentage point, according to a study he co-wrote titled “Much ado about nothing? An empirical assessment of the Georgia voter identification statute.”

The new ID requirements for absentee voting will have even less of an effect today than 13 years ago because almost every voter already has the ID they’d need to cast a ballot. About 2% of registered voters lack a driver’s license or state ID number.

Hans von Spakovsky, an attorney for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said election rules won’t make a difference after early voting and absentee voting opportunities expanded in recent years.

 

“The idea that somehow this is going to change turnout, I think it’s just not true,” said von Spakovsky, a former member of the Fulton County elections board. “People want to vote, they’re going to go vote, and they have so many different ways of doing it today that making some slight change is just not going to affect that.”

One voting policy change that will likely matter to some extent: limitations on ballot drop boxes.

Georgia’s voting law prohibits drop boxes on Election Day or the prior three days, eliminating an opportunity for last-minute absentee voters to participate without having to rely on the U.S. Postal Service. Ballots received by election officials after polls close on Election Day are rejected in Georgia.

The percentage of ballots rejected for being late declined when Georgia allowed widespread usage of drop boxes in last year’s elections. About 0.3% of absentee ballots were returned too late in November’s presidential election compared with 1.7% rejected for lateness in 2018, according to state election data. That amounted to 4,117 absentee ballots received after the state’s Election Day deadline in November.

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