Voter suppression comes in many forms.
It can be as subtle as preventing a blind man from being able to verify his vote. Or, as some critics contend, as flagrant as passing laws that affect millions of voters. To date, lawmakers in 19 states — including Georgia — have passed 33 laws that make it more difficult to vote, according to the latest Voting Laws Roundup by the Brennan Center for Justice.
Experts advise voters to pay attention to any attempts to keep them from getting their absentee ballots.
Nearly four million absentee ballots were cast in Georgia in the last election cycle, which occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic and included primaries, the 2020 presidential election and the Senate runoff. In fact, more Georgians voted in last year’s general election than any other election in state history, thanks largely to record absentee voting and strong in-person showings at the polls on election day.
ACLU of Georgia’s Senior Policy Counsel Vasu Abhiraman told Atlanta Civic Circle that Georgia lawmakers responded by making “absentee balloting much more difficult and putting up barriers and hurdles in front of voters that did not exist before.”
Abhiraman said absentee voting played a key role in Georgia’s GOP-led legislature creating and passing the Georgia Election Integrity Act of 2021.
With early voting slated to start in Georgia on Monday and the Nov. 2 municipal elections less than a month away, Atlanta Civic Circle offers this checklist to help voters recognize tactics that could keep them from voting.
Here are a few things voters should be prepared for:
- Shortened turnaround times for absentee ballots. Georgia voters used to have 180 days to request absentee ballots; now, they have 78 days. (The last day to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 2 municipal elections is Oct. 29.) “So many times in Georgia, folks who have requested absentee ballots end up not receiving them at all,” Abhiraman said. As a result, they are “completely disenfranchised or have to go well out of their way to show up in person to vote when they hadn’t planned to do so.”
- Absentee ballots requiring more forms of identification. This presents a hardship to the elderly and low-income people who most likely do not have scanners or copiers at home, experts say.
- Last-minute polling location changes. If voters are not notified in a timely manner of the change through all available means — mail, social media, local county election websites — this is a sign of suppression, voting rights experts say. “Those voters previously could cast what’s known as a provisional ballot, even if they were not at their assigned polling location but were in the correct county,” Abhiraman said. This practice is no longer allowed under the seven-month-old Georgia Election Integrity Act. . “Now those ballots will not count, and those voters will be disenfranchised until 5 p.m. on Election Day, when they can cast a valid provisional ballot even if they’re at an incorrectly assigned polling location,” Abhiraman said. “Tens of thousands of Georgians cast provisional ballots that were counted in the last [election] cycle.”
- Not enough early-voting polling places. The more highly-populated counties in Georgia provided sufficient numbers of early voting locations in the last cycle. But the practice is not consistent throughout the state, especially in rural areas where voters may have to travel miles to cast their ballot. In the last runoff, Fulton County, for example, had one early voting location for every 30,000 registered voters.
- A shorter time period between an election and an ensuing runoff. The federal runoff happened on Jan. 5, nine weeks after last year’s Nov. 3 general election.” That was ample time to have three weeks of early voting and time for voters to learn about the new election and make plans,” Abhiraman said. That time has now been cut to four weeks. Any runoff elections that may be needed will be held Nov. 30, five days after Thanksgiving when many people may be traveling.
If you suspect you’ve experienced voter suppression, here’s what you can do:
- Call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) for real-time help.
- Email the ACLU of Georgia at email@example.com.
- Check the My Voter Page on the Georgia Secretary of State website for your voter registration status, mail-in application and ballot status, poll locations, early voting locations, elected officials and other pertinent information.