And we’re off! Georgia’s 2022 early voting season starts with sky-high stakes

Building with stucco finish and arched doorway housing the Cobb elections headquartersCobb election headquarters building on Whitlock Ave. (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

By Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder [This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
May 2, 2022

Early voting officially kicks off Monday for the 2022 midterm elections with sky-high stakes freighted with the never-ending relitigation of the 2020 presidential election.

Over the next several weeks Georgians will cast ballots for the May 24 primaries that will determine the Republican and Democratic nominees for governor, U.S. Senate, congressional districts, secretary of state and other tests of the state’s budding battleground status.

The primary is the first statewide election since the election overhaul implemented by Republican lawmakers in spring 2020 that reshaped absentee voting, set new deadlines when provisional ballots can be cast, added an extra Saturday of early voting, and gave the state power to take over local election boards deemed to be underperforming.

Over the coming months, progressive voting rights groups are poised to closely monitor the effects of changes they charge are suppressing Black voters and other marginalized groups who helped secure Georgia’s two Senate seats and Joe Biden’s narrow Georgia win over Donald Trump for president.

Voting rights organizations are increasing their effort to educate the public about the voting law and resources like ones offered by a coalition of 100 organizations that allow voters who have questions or problems to report them at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Even with the efforts some say make it harder to vote, Common Cause Georgia Executive Director Aunna Dennis said there’s a strong counter effort to ensure every eligible voter can cast a ballot.

“But the anti-voter legislation that’s been pushed through our legislature means that it will be harder for some voters to vote this year,” she said in a statement. “So it’s more important than ever for Georgia voters to make a plan to vote – and maybe make a backup plan, too.”

This year’s party primaries feature a heated race between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and a crowded U.S. senate field led by former University of Georgia football great Herchel Walker trying to break out of the pack to take on Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock on Nov. 8.

And as people head to the polls, the most important push from voting rights champions is for Georgians to vote early and inform their coworkers, families, and others about the new rules and to check on their status, said Jamil Favors, a co-founder of Atlanta-based nonprofit Power the Vote.

As a result of the new law, the deadline for requesting and submitting absentee ballots is shorter and drop boxes will no longer be available around the clock but only during early voting hours.

Under the new law, Republicans officials trumpeted a plan to replace a comparatively subjective signature match for absentee ballots with a more objective driver’s license, other state ID or requiring a photocopy of a utility bill, bank statement or government check to verify identity.

“That’s going to significantly affect many individuals who may not have that license or may not have a photocopier to take a copy of their utility bill,” Favors said. “And these things may seem small, but they’re really small cuts that are deep cuts to truly keep people away from the ballot box.”

Georgians will also have more difficulty requesting an absentee via an online portal under the new law since they will need a signed document in order to apply.

Georgian officials with the secretary of state’s office counter 97% of eligible voters already have a government ID.

It is proving difficult for many election supervisors in Georgia to find enough poll workers after the pandemic led to the older ones opting out. Meanwhile, threats to poll workers grew across Georgia in the wake of discredited claims by Trump and his allies of a fraudulent election.

The new voting law isn’t factoring into the struggles of Cobb County in hiring enough staff for an election, where Election Director Janine Eveler expects a strong turnout to settle the many contested races.

But how those votes are cast should be different from 2020’s presidential preference primary when a record 1.1 million absentee ballots were cast across Georgia.

“Absentee voting will not be as popular as in 2020. More people are comfortable voting in person now and absentee voting is much harder than before with more restrictive deadlines,” Eveler said.

As a result of the new law, provisional ballots cast at a wrong polling place before 5 p.m. on Election Day will not be counted. The proponents of this change say it will give voters a chance to vote on all the candidates on the ballot. But others say it will make it more confusing for poll workers and will leave thousands of people without enough time to cast their votes.

“I think part of the problem with this law in particular is just how unnecessarily complex a rule that changes at five o’clock on Election Day is,” said Saira Amir Draper, a co-founder of Power the Vote and a Democratic candidate for state House District 90.

In 2020, the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot was three days before the election, but now voters must request the ballot 11 days before the election, which means the deadline is May 13 for the primaries.

The most significant new election measure this year was signed into law last week by Gov. Brian Kemp, which will grant the Georgia Bureau of Investigation new powers to initial election investigations beginning on July 1.

While a large number of groups, including presumptive governor candidate Democrat Stacey Abrams, founder of the New Georgia Project, and former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s Greater Georgia, are pushing to get more voters registered, the largest driving force in signing up new voters – the automatic registration process through the Department of Driver Service – had its percentage fall by half over the last year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that when the agency shut off automatic voter registration after a design of its website, registrations decreased from 35,000 in February 2020 to less than 6,000 in the month the following year.

Draper, who is also a former director of the Democratic Party of Georgia’s voter protection division, said that drop should have sounded off alarms within state agencies workers that the system was flawed.

What to know heading into the May 24 primary

Georgians can view their registration status, update their contact information, and more at the secretary of state’s My Voter Page. Voters who have problems with the website can confirm their poll location by contacting their county elections office.

Monday: Early voting begins with polls open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

May 7 and 14: Saturday early voting.

May 13: Deadline to submit application for absentee ballot.

May 20: Last day of early voting.

May 24: Election Day. Polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.