Southeastern US state Georgia, held by Republicans, recently passed into law a 98-page measure that many say would mainly impact the state’s large and mostly Democratic-leaning Black population. The law, which follows Republican losses in the state, makes numerous changes to how elections will be administered, including a new photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and African-American leaders have criticised the new rules that they say are meant to repress the political and economic power of Black people.
The controversy spilled onto the field of sports on Monday when Texas Governor Greg Abbott refused to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the Texas Rangers’ match against Toronto Blue Jays in Arlington, to protest the new law. For his decision, Abbott cited Major League Baseball’s (MLB) decision to pull out the MLB All-Star game from Atlanta.
So, what is the controversy about? Why are corporate giants and sports clubs speaking up and protesting? Here are all the answers:
The bill, known as SB 202, will change the way Georgians vote. They will now require identification papers for mail-in ballots, the number of ballot drop boxes will be reduced and the window for early and absentee voting has also been reduced.
The new law gives State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices leading to concerns that the Republican-controlled state board could influence administration of elections..
Mail-in absentee voting, used by 1.3 million people in the November general election, will also change. Voters over 65, with a disability, in the military or who live overseas can apply for a ballot but the window for the request for mail-in ballot will be 11 weeks before an election instead of 180 days .
Counties will also begin mailing out absentee ballots four weeks before the election, about three weeks later than before.
New ID rules
Requesting and returning a ballot will also require either a driver’s licence number, state ID number or a copy of acceptable voter ID. A voter will also sign an oath swearing that everything is correct. Earlier, the poll officials would check the signature on the application with those on file.
The new law stipulates at least one drop box for 159 counties and caps the number of boxes at one per 100,000 active voters moves them inside early voting sites instead of outside on government property. The boxes will not be accessible 24/7, as was the case earlier.
The new law expands early voting access for most counties. They can have voting open from 7 am to 7 pm, or 9 am to 5 pm at minimum. For most counties, voters will have an extra weekend day, and voting hours will be longer.
Counting of votes
One of the complaints about the Presidential poll was about how long it took to count votes. The new law allows poll officials to begin processing, but not tabulating, absentee ballots starting two weeks before the election. It also requires that counties count all of the ballots non-stop as soon as polls close and finish by 5 pm the next day or face action.
Changes to State election Board
The secretary of state will no longer chair the State Election Board. The new chair would be ‘non-partisan’ but will be appointed by a majority of the state House and Senate.