Election laws: How Georgia compares to other states

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In this photo from Nov. 6, 2020, a Gwinnett County election worker looks over absentee and provisional ballots at the Gwinnett Voter Registrations and Elections office in Lawrenceville, Georgia. - Jessica McGowan/Getty Images North America/TNS

ATLANTA — Senate Bill 202 makes substantial changes to elections in Georgia, a state with a long history of denying Black residents the right to vote. Critics of the new law say it’s based on false claims of election fraud — claims that have been used in the past to justify voting restrictions.

Meanwhile, here’s how some new and existing provisions of Georgia election law compare with laws in other states, according information compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

No-excuse absentee voting

Voters can cast absentee ballots without offering an excuse in two-thirds of states, including Georgia. An excuse is required in one-third of states. Georgia lawmakers considered eliminating no-excuse absentee voting this year but ultimately did not.

Deadline to request absentee ballot

Twenty-two states allow voters to apply for absentee ballots less than seven days before an election. Thirteen states set the application deadline at seven days before an election. Under SB 202, Georgia becomes one of 11 states that set the application deadline more than seven days before the election.

Georgia voters now must request ballots at least 11 days in advance. Previously, most counties allowed voters to request ballots up until the Friday before Election Day.

Verifying absentee ballots

To verify the identity of voters, 30 states match their signatures on absentee ballots with signatures already on file. Six other states require signatures but do not verify them. Eight states require a voter’s signature, plus the signature of a witness. Three states require ballot envelopes to be notarized. Two states require voters to submit a copy of some sort of identification.

Under SB 202, Georgia will become one of four states that require voters to submit a driver’s license number or other ID number. The others are Kansas, Minnesota and Ohio. Many states require a driver’s license or other ID to register to vote or to vote in person.

Ballot drop boxes

All states allow voters to return absentee ballots by mail. Almost all states allow them to drop off ballots at local election offices. Eleven states — including Georgia — allow voters to return ballots to other locations, such as early voting sites. States typically set minimum requirements for the location, number, hours and security of drop boxes.

Georgia authorized drop boxes for the first time in 2020 on an emergency basis during the coronavirus pandemic. The emergency rules placed no limits on the number of boxes, though they did limit them to government property and require 24-hour video surveillance for security purposes. SB 202 is more restrictive, limiting the number of drop boxes, allowing them only inside early voting sites and providing public access to the boxes only during regular voting hours.

Window for early in-person voting

Early in-person voting is available in 43 states (including states with all-mail elections). Twenty-four states (including Georgia) allow some weekend voting.

Early voting periods range in length from four days to 45 days. The average is 19 days. Under SB 202, Georgia would have a minimum of 17 days of early voting, with two additional Sunday voting days for counties that want them, for a maximum of 19 days.

Food and drink for voters in line

All states limit campaigning near polling places, regulating behavior such as distributing campaign literature and wearing campaign apparel. SB 202 goes further, prohibiting anyone from distributing food and drink to voters waiting in line. It allows poll workers to make “self-service” water available, though it does not require it.

Similar prohibitions in other states are scarce. Montana prohibits candidates and campaigns from distributing food and drink within 100 feet of a polling place. New York prohibits providing meat, drink or refreshments to people, except refreshments having a retail value of less than $1, which are given without identifying the person or entity supplying the provisions.

Out-of-precinct voting

States vary in how they handle provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Twenty-five states do not count provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Nineteen states — including Georgia — count some races on such ballots. For example, Georgia counts whatever races voters were eligible for inside the county.

SB 202 changed the way Georgia handles provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct. Under the law, election officials cannot count such votes unless they are cast after 5 p.m. It’s unclear whether any other state has a provision that makes acceptance of such ballots contingent on when they were cast.

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