I last did this back when several states had passed heartbeat abortion laws. The recent frenzy over Georgia’s SB202, with a 64 line formal title I won’t be reproducing here, also known as the Election Integrity Act of 2021, has spurred me to do this again. In brief, there is a law a great many people are commenting on, but very few seem to have read – and as I type this introduction, I am in that number.
But I have downloaded a copy of the bill, (located here) as signed, and will read it to see how it actually impacts Georgia’s voting access and whom, exactly, it ‘disenfranchises’. My guess is, it expands voting (or at the minimum stabilizes it across the absurd number of GA counties) or does not reduce voting access. I also suspect that the only thing in there that has been commented on – the food & water bit – is the only thing in there that is actually controversial. We’ll see. Finally, a quick note – in Georgia the format is to
strikeout old/removed stuff, and underline new. Now, on to the bill!
TL/DR: Media lied. Nothing in here is remotely as represented, even the water thing is not being honestly represented. Skip to Section 33 for the water.
This is really, absurdly, long, so I added a Table of Contents to help out.
Title & Section 1
Yes, the title is 64 lines long. That’s insane. Click above and see for yourself. Section 1 is just the citation name, so no real content here.
Section 2: Findings…the Why Of It All
Ah, findings & declarations. In bills, this is the section were we learn what the legislative body’s concerns are, before they get to making changes. This isn’t legislation, this is backstory. In some ways, this can read however they want, and none of it matters in the law itself – this could literally be a reprint of MAD Magazine #1, and it would mean nothing.
But, since this is the place where we can see the motivation behind the rest of the law, it does matter in this context. Georgia was nice enough to break it down into sections for us. Section 1 is unremarkable – nothing controversial here.
(1) Following the 2018 and 2020 elections, there was a significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems, with many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter suppression and many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud;
The rest of the section expands on this first point. Something to note here, Georgia has 159 counties, all of which have home rule. Illinois has 102 counties, one of which has home rule. This leads to a lot of different structures across Georgia, and thus confusion. It is not inconceivable that residents with broadcast range of Atlanta have very different voting rules than Atlanta does, which can also lead to confusion. The introduction addresses that:
(7) Elections in Georgia are administered by counties, but that can lead to problems for voters in counties with dysfunctional election systems. Counties with long-term problems of lines, problems with processing of absentee ballots, and other challenges in administration need accountability, but state officials are limited in what they are able to do to address those problems. Ensuring there is a mechanism to address local election problems will promote voter confidence and meet the goal of uniformity;
Continuing, they mention an issue with electioneering (and I bet this is where the water thing comes from), inconsistent expanded voting, voters voting in the wrong place, counting issues, and so on. They conclude with the goal of the legislation being to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat,”. So, here we see a good start. The reality is that the last President that both sides agreed was elected fairly was George H.W. Bush. In 1988.
Ok, I have to cover this again. There is cheating and fraud in every election. Every. One. Claiming there isn’t is not only naive, but intellectually dishonest. The only thing that matters is does that cheating impact the outcome. That is harder to prove, especially since all too often the ones who would be in a position to prove or disprove the impact are on the sides of the cheaters. So, yes, there was fraud in 2020. Deal with it. The insane reluctance of one side to do anything to reduce or even remove fraud is…telling.
Section 3 – 8: Let’s Get To The Law Part Now
And that is a slog. In brief, these sections change some aspects of how the Board of Elections works. The law establishes rules about the State board, including requiring the Chair to be non-partisan:
205 (2) The chairperson of the board shall be nonpartisan. At no time during his or her
206 service as chairperson shall the chairperson actively participate in a political party
207 organization or in the campaign of a candidate for public office, nor shall he or she make
208 any campaign contributions to a candidate for public office. Furthermore, to qualify for
209 appointment as chairperson, in the two years immediately preceding his or her
210 appointment, a person shall not have qualified as a partisan candidate for public office,
211 participated in a political party organization or the campaign of a partisan candidate for
212 public office, or made any campaign contributions to a partisan candidate for public
This is pretty dull, with information on how and why you can remove county superintendents, who you need to tell when you do, and a lot of the pre-2021 law included for context to the new sections.
Section 9: Payment of Expenses
Basically, elections cost money, and someone has to pay for it. What this new section does is limit who is allowed to pay for the election to the county or state.
430 (b) No superintendent shall take or accept any funding, grants, or gifts from any source
431 other than from the governing authority of the county or municipality, the State of Georgia,
432 or the federal government.
433 (c) The State Election Board shall study and report to the General Assembly a proposed
434 method for accepting donations intended to facilitate the administration of elections and
435 a method for an equitable distribution of such donations state wide by October 1, 2021.”
This is an addition, no a change, and the previous code simply didn’t specify the funding source.
Section 10 – 12: More Election Board Stuff
Boring, and establishes performance reviews as a thing, so that’s nice.
Section 13: Death Of A Candidate
“(g) In the event of the death of a candidate on the ballot in a nonpartisan election prior to
547 such nonpartisan election, such candidate’s name shall remain on the ballot and all votes
548 cast for such candidate shall be counted. If the deceased candidate receives the requisite
549 number of votes to be elected, such contest shall be handled as a failure to fill the office
550 under Code Section 21-2-504. If the deceased candidate receives enough votes to be in a
551 run-off election, such run-off election shall be conducted as provided in Code
552 Section 21-2-501 and the candidates in such runoff shall be determined in accordance with
553 paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of Code Section 21-2-501.”
So, yeah. Basically this means Georgia refers to other sections of the Official Code.
Section 14: More Money
Another section about not allowing funding from anyone but the state, county, or federal government.
Section 15 – 17: Challenging & Removing Electors
Electors in this context is legalese for anyone who has the right to vote in an election, not a type of official. Yes, I can see why having this section can be controversial. Except, I am pretty sure that this is universal across the country, so only controversial to people who can’t be bothered to think.
It is vital to note that in the existing law, and the new changes, these sections refer to citizens challenging citizens – not a government official challenging a citizen.
So, the existing law allows challenges already. The new passage in § 21-2-229 (a) adds “There shall not be a limit on the number of persons whose qualifications such elector may challenge”. Challenges are required to be in writing and specific about why the person may not be eligible. Paragraph (b) specifies that the hearing about qualifications must be within 10 business days. No other changes there. The revised law then adds (f), holding that “Failure to comply with the provisions of this Code section by the board of registrars shall subject such board to sanctions by the State Election Board”.
In Section 16, the same basic stuff is applied to electors challenging other electors. The first change is to when the challenges need to be received; from before 5:00PM on the day before election day to the same time on the day before absentee ballots are to begin to be counted. The new passages also apply the ‘failure to comply’ paragraph.
Section 17 deals with removing electors from the list of electors due to death, moving, etc. Basically, it says that you can’t vote in Georgia if you are registered to vote elsewhere. The new passage just removes them from the list of eligible electors. This is also not something new or unique.
Section 18: Adding More Equipment
Paragraph (a) reads much like below, but refers to reducing precincts to be less than 2000 electors. Below is the new content:
(b) If, at the previous general election, a precinct contained more than 2,000 electors and
722 if electors desiring to vote on the day of the election had to wait in line for more than one
723 hour before checking in to vote, the superintendent shall either reduce the size of such
724 precinct so that it shall contain not more than 2,000 electors in accordance with the
725 procedures prescribed by this chapter for the division, alteration, and consolidation of
726 precincts no later than 60 days before the next general election or provide additional voting
727 equipment or poll workers, or both, before the next general election. For administering this
728 Code section, the chief manager of a precinct which contained more than 2,000 electors at
729 the previous general election shall submit a report thereof to the superintendent of the
730 reported time from entering the line to checking in to vote. Such wait time shall be
731 measured no fewer than three different times throughout the day (in the morning, at
732 midday, and prior to the close of polls) and such results shall be recorded on a form
733 provided by the Secretary of State. Any such change in the boundaries of a precinct shall
734 conform with the requirements of subsection (a) of Code Section 21-2-261.1.”
So…the state is restricting voting by adding machines or precincts to make sure everyone can vote? Weird.
Section 19: Letting People Know Polling Moved
Again, no real changes from existing law. Except for giving more notice. More, not less. Actually, they couldn’t give less. The original wording was to notify electors on election day. Now the statute reads “Additionally, during the seven days before and on the day of the first election following such change, a notice of such change shall be posted on the previous polling place and at three other places in the immediate vicinity thereof. Each notice posted shall state the location to which the polling place has been moved and shall direct electors to the new location. At least one notice at the previous polling place shall be a minimum of four feet by four feet in size.”
Again, we see Georgia expanding information, and thus access, not limiting it.
Section 20 & 21: Precinct Minutiae
Section 20 adds language about early voting, since that wasn’t a thing when the statutes were written. It also clarifies when mobile polling places should be used, limiting that to declared emergencies. This is not a limit, and reads more along the line of how to deal with a natural disaster’s impact on polling places.
Section 20A has no changes, but is included because of changes before and after it. Section 20B requires that ballots have the name and location of the polling place printed on the top. This is a simple security measure – if you see ballots from location A showing up in boxes from location B, then you need to figure out what happened. Simple. Section 20C reinforces that.
Section 21 again adds the requirement to list the location on the ballot, with 21A mandating it for electronic ballots (the printout), and 21B mandating it for absentee ballots.
Section 22: Number of Voting Booths
Here, the law mandates 1 booth for every 250 electors, but that isn’t new. What’s new is the second paragraph.
870 (2) For any other primary, election, or runoff, the county or municipal election
871 superintendent may provide a greater or lesser number of voting booths or enclosures if,
872 after a thorough consideration of the type of election, expected turnout, the number of
873 electors who have already voted by advance voting or absentee ballot, and other relevant
874 factors that inform the appropriate amount of equipment needed, such superintendent
875 determines that a different amount of equipment is needed or sufficient. Such
876 determination shall be subject to the provisions of Code Section 21-2-263.”
So, basically, this empowers election supervisors to add or remove booths based on early voting and mail-in numbers. Makes sense. The code citation at the end, 21-2-263, circles back to Section 18, and the part about making sure everyone can vote by 1 hour after the polls close. So, while not providing a formula for reduction of in-person equipment, it does bind such reductions to the way the law handles making sure everyone can vote.
Section 23: Ballot Security
Section 23 makes it law that the ballots are printed on security paper. A simple common sense way to avoid photocopies or fake ballots. Section 23A circles back to the location being printed on the ballot. If that seems like something they are hitting a lot, it is to prevent loopholes – different ballot types are discussed in different places, and in each they comment on the need to print the location. It makes the law longer, but also complete.
Section 24: Testing Machines
This is probably common, but neat to see behind the curtain some. Basically, this section covers testing voting machines for accuracy. The new additions to the law require the test time & place on municipal websites, as well as a newspaper. These tests are public. The changes also specify the size and placement in the newspaper.
Section 25 – 30: Absentee & Mail Ballots
Ok, this one took a few reads. And here is where you might see some legitimate concern about limiting voting. Might. The first section defines the window for requesting an absentee ballot. They changed the window from 180 days before election day to not more than 79, or less than 11 days before election day as the window where you can request an absentee ballot. There was not a lower end encoded before.
The subsequent sections add a lot. The first major new addition regards the process for requesting absentee ballots. So, in (C)(i), they establish the requirement to apply in writing, and provide name, address, birth date, and Georgia driver’s license number. I want to pause here to laugh at the people posting sample licenses and claiming that the number is hard to find. That is, frankly, insulting. People tend to know where the number is on their own license. It’s an ignorant argument based on the insulting assumption that southerners are too stupid to know how to read their own license. And guess what? If you don’t have a license or ID card, all you need to do is declare that, and provide an alternate form if ID. This is, for those too stupid to know better, literally the exact requirement to fill out an I9 for a job. So, you can get an absentee ballot without a license or ID. Shocking.
You also need to specify which election, which makes sense. You also have to confirm that you are eligible to vote in Georgia. Also not something that should be shocking, and likely something common across the rest of the country. The law also adds that the request should be online, and that you have to ask for one – they won’t just send them to you. They also changed the law to make it illegal for unauthorized persons to handle ballots. There is then some stuff about fonts, and making sure that people in jail are able to request ballots (it lets them access their personal effects to make the request).
We then get some changes to work with the ID requirements, restate the handling rules, and how invalid requests are handled (the reason the request is rejected is written on the application, and it is immediately mailed back). The only change to that part is based on when it is received – if you send the application late, then it is rejected. Like anything else. They also reworked the reasons an application can be rejected, and are now required to send provisional ballots when there is some question about the application.
Over in Section 26, we clarify where additional registrars offices are, and so on. Then the law defines how ballot drop boxes are to be set up. That is new. The law now requires at least one drop box per 100,000 voters, or per early voting location, whichever is less. They also limit drop boxes to being open only when advance voting is happening. That seems to be controversial, but is enacted to prevent tampering. It’s not that complicated. It then goes on to define how to collect them (two people), when to collect them (end of the day every day of advance voting), and so on.
Section 27 restates most of 26, with more on how they are supplied, etc. Again, nothing major here – this is the machinery part to cover the changes mentioned previously.
Section 28 wants you to add you driver’s license or ID number and date of birth to the absentee ballot, and revisits the ways to vote without those documents. Section 28 also speaks to advance voting. Some confusion and irregularity is removed regarding when it starts (4th Monday before election day), then the law adds times to the existing code – early voting is 9-5, Monday – Friday, excluding state holidays. Early voting is also established on the third Saturday of early voting, and the second and/or third Sunday. They then added language to standardize this across the state, removing the local election board’s ability to change this. Again, with as many counties as Georgia has, this is important.
In a strange addition, the number of absentee & provisional ballots issued, returned, and rejected is now required to be posted on the municipal website or some other public place.
Section 29 covers rejection of ballots, and how to do that. Mainly this establishes the clerk is to compare the information on the ballot matches the registration information. It continues to talk about scanning the ballots, and that this process is not to begin until the polls close on election day.
In another pernicious move to disenfranchise voters, absentee ballots are now required to be publicly processed. Wait…publicly? Well, that’s just different. So, not something to complain about, as, again, the law increases access to the process. The section continues to explain the counting process.
Section 30 talks about retention of absentee ballots.
Section 31: Poll Hours
This limits the authority to extent hours to the county superior court. That’s it.
Section 32: Poll Watchers
Here the law adds language to require training, and that they have to be able to see what’s happening.
Section 33: Electioneering, or, The Water Thing
Ah, here, maybe, we get to the only thing anyone wants to talk about. Ok, so the section isn’t actually called ‘electioneering’, that is too on the nose. What this is is a list of things you cannot do at polling places. Here is where the infamous ‘no water’ is listed. It does indeed say you cannot give food or drink to an elector…as a vote solicitation. Oh, so you can’t use food or drinks to get people to vote for you? Yeah, ok. You also can’t offer them campaign flyers, money, or other gifts.
But wait! What does this say?
1884 “(e) This Code section shall not be construed to prohibit a poll officer from distributing
1885 materials, as required by law, which are necessary for the purpose of instructing electors
1886 or from distributing materials prepared by the Secretary of State which are designed solely
1887 for the purpose of encouraging voter participation in the election being conducted or from
1888 making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in
1889 line to vote.”
Emphasis mine. So, as a campaign item, I cannot hand out water. Nothing prevents me from making it available. And, based on the literal text of the law, nothing prevents my civic or religious group from handing out water. So…this is another deliberate falsification by the media and certain political figures. I am Claude Rains levels of shocked here.
Section 34: Polling Places
Back to the boring stuff. We add a requirement for poll officials to send you to the right place if you go to the wrong polling location for your precinct. And, you can cast a provisional ballot too, if you can’t get to the right place in time. Much suppression found here!
Section 35: Provisional Ballots
You can haz ballots and they will count.
Section 36 – 41: Counting Votes
The new material tells polling places to let election officials know how many votes happened after the polls close. And now, precincts have to, no later than 10PM election day, post the total votes cast in that precinct. This is more basic security, since a precinct with 2000 registered voters shouldn’t have 2000+ ballots cast. Basic math. Of course, it can be 2000+, since provisional ballots, as mentioned in Section 34, can put the precinct over the total registered voters. They do list provisional ballots as a line item, so you can see how those impact totals.
Section 37 details the steps to begin counting. Ditto 38.
Section 39 talks about damaged ballots, and the creation of a duplicate ballot that can be counted. Feels like an edge case.
Section 40 adds language to the law to start counting following the closing of polls. This was implied before, but is now explicit. Section 41 is more of the same, with some tweaks to when this all starts.
Section 42: Winning?
This section lays out how you win. Hint, you get the most votes. It also sets up how to do run-offs. This was accomplished mostly by removing text, not adding it.
Section 43 & 44: Special Elections
No kidding, the law tells you to follow the law. It isn’t much changed…just the rule that candidates are listed alphabetically. Woo.
Section 45 & 46: Temporary Appointment
Adds language about holding a primary. Section 46 establishes the governor’s power to appoint chief justices should one die or quit.
Section 47: Penalties
The law adds language to make it a felony to accept an absentee ballot from an elector, unless you are authorized to (caretakers, for example).
Section 48: Stuff In the Booth With You
Like Illinois, you vote alone, but can have an authorized assistant or your kids, in with you. Otherwise, no one can join you in the booth. Not unusual. The law also makes it illegal to photograph your ballot.
Section 49 details how to do things when there is a census ending near an election, section 50 is procedural stuff regarding how you make laws, the rest (51, 52, & 53) are the usual end-of-law stuff about revoking the revoked stuff, and when the law enters effect.
Ugh. That was 98 pages and 2512 lines of legal code. You’re welcome. What was my takeaway? There was literally nothing in here that is in the least bit disenfranchising. Yes, the window for requesting an absentee ballot is smaller, but still allows more than enough time. Yes, the water thing…but since the media lied about it…
Actually, the media lied is fast becoming an expectation. That they lied about this is not a surprise. Not even a little bit of one.