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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 law increases early voting on weekends before nonrunoff elections, requiring every county to provide two Saturdays while maintaining an option for counties to offer voting on two Sundays. The expansion primarily covers rural counties that hadn’t previously opened polls on additional weekend days.

Out of 20 studies reviewed by the GAO, early voting led to decreases in turnout up to 3.8 percentage points to increases in turnout up to 3.1 percentage points.

Another provision of the law could also have repercussions: a rule that provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct won’t be counted, except for ballots cast after 5 p.m. on Election Day. There were 3,357 provisional ballots cast and counted from the wrong precinct in November’s election, according to state election data.

Liberal worries that Georgia’s voting law, Senate Bill 202, would suppress voters are overblown, said Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Greater Georgia, a conservative voting group founded by former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

“There are a number of factors that far outweigh the minutiae of an election bill in terms of turnout,” Lawson said. “What is the national conversation going on? What are some of the policy issues that are being discussed? Those things are going to have far more significant impact on turnout.”

The consequences of the law remain to be seen since it hasn’t yet been tested in major elections.

Turnout in next month’s elections for mayors and city councils will provide initial information on how voting patterns change for absentee, early and Election Day voting. About 30% of active voters participated in the election for Atlanta mayor four years ago, and turnout increased to 62% in the 2018 midterms and 68% in last year’s presidential election.

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VOTING REQUIREMENTS OF GEORGIA ELECTION LAW

— Voter ID: Voters must provide a driver’s license or state ID number when requesting and returning absentee ballots unless they don’t have those forms of ID. Voters can also attach a photocopy of a U.S. passport, military ID, voter ID card, utility bill, bank statement, government-issued check or other government documentation.

— Drop boxes: Absentee ballot drop boxes will be available only during early voting hours and inside polling places. Each county is required to offer at least one drop box, but their number is capped at one per 100,000 active registered voters.

— Early voting: Fewer in-person early voting days will be offered before runoff elections. Election officials must provide at least one week of early voting before runoffs, down from three weeks in prior years. All counties must offer two Saturdays of early voting before nonrunoff elections, and two optional Sunday voting days may also be provided.

— Provisional ballots: Ballots cast in the wrong precinct won’t be counted except in the last two hours before polls close.

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©2021 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Visit at ajc.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.