Delta and Coca-Cola, both major Atlanta companies have joined many others in raising their voices against the recently passed Election Integrity Act. Governor Brian Kemp, signed the new bill into law on March 25, which has started a string of debates that has continued for the last few days. Many individuals have nicknamed the bill the ‘Jim Crow’ because of the belief that it encourages voter suppression and limits people’s right to vote. President Joe Biden, as well as Atlanta public figures such as Tyler Perry have called it by its new nickname.
The question is raised, is the bill really as bad as everyone thinks it is? In a world full of reading the news, and agreeing with the arguments, it’s especially hard to do your own research on the topic… especially when it comes to an almost 100-page document about election laws. But no worries, I read it for you, and so did UWG Political Science professor, Karen Owen.
“The media along with many groups want to paint this entire bill as hindering the rights of certain voters and suppressing the votes of people of color,” said Owen. “I believe that this narrative is misleading and not accurate. There are changes and reforms to the current state laws, but these new laws and provisions do not suppress voters’ rights.”
The new law does a number of things. One of the major sources of controversy is how the law deals with absentee ballots. Per the bill, absentee ballot boxes will now be placed inside secure polling locations, allowing for it to be in a safe location from being tampered with. However, changes have been put on the absentee ballots also, requiring all voters to provide their drivers license number or ID number, something you already had to do if you choose to vote in person.
“The state carefully through the lawmaking process worked to include better measures after hearing from many constituents of the state that had concerns,” said Owen. “The final act reforms the election law but does so with providing measures that give greater access to early voting on the weekends and ensures that those voting cannot commit any type of fraud. Almost 75% of Americans support showing a photo ID for voting, and these new changes make sure that all Georgians voting whether in person on Election Day or by absentee show an ID proving they are indeed registered to vote and legally allowed to cast a ballot.”
The new law also allows for early voting days. Meaning that there will now be two Saturdays available for early voting, as well as two optional Sundays. This allows for more opportunities to vote beforehand and hopefully limits the amount of people voting on election day. However, because of the presumed shorter lines that the bill will provide, there are still debates as the bill no longer allows for voters to be handed water or any food related items while standing in line.
“The media has stated that food and water cannot be provided to those standing in line,” said Owen. “The law does state that no person can provide materials including food and water within 150 feet of a precinct or polling location. Thus, if a voter is in line within that 150 feet an outside person or group could not give him or her water or food – seen as electioneering. But, the county can provide water stations for voters, and at 150 feet and 1 inch any one can give voters food and water. I think this issue was perhaps a bit overblown.”
Despite the controversy over the bill, there are still many good things that it provides. It creates an even more secure foundation for elections, and should limit any worries that an individual’s vote was tampered with. It allows for more voting opportunities, clearly marked sample ballots, and continual reportage of ballots cast and long lines.
“This act is important to Georgia’s election laws,” said Owen. “I think that at times the state legislature must respond to constituents’ concerns about the security, fairness, and access to the ballot box. It is important for all Georgians to have confidence in the voting process and that their votes are counted properly. I believe the state experienced new challenges with the Covid pandemic which brought to light the importance of updating the voting laws, especially such a measure as the security of drop boxes.
“The act will restore confidence, and it will encourage those who have concerns about the bill to vote,” continued Owen. “Georgia will not see a decline in voter turnout. People are interested and they will vote.”