Luther Roland, 69, of Marietta, remembers his parents’ excitement and pride when they were first able to vote following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He has followed in their footsteps, making it a priority over the years to never miss a chance to head to the polls.
“It’s my way of doing my civic duty,” Roland says. “It’s a right we ought to exercise.”
He didn’t let the COVID-19 crisis get in the way of that duty last year. Instead of voting in person, he cast his ballot by mail — a process he found safe and easy.
However, the rules for voting in Georgia have changed significantly since the 2020 election because of a far-reaching law passed by the General Assembly in March.
More than 1.3 million Georgia voters chose to mail in an absentee ballot in the last presidential election, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And many of them were older. Nearly 59 percent of the state’s absentee voters were age 56 and up, according to the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida. If Georgians like Roland want to vote by absentee ballot again, as concerns about the coronavirus continue, they’ll have to factor in new protocols laid out in the 98-page bill.
AARP Georgia is helping voters 50-plus navigate the new voting landscape. “Your voice and voting safely are important to us,” says Debra Tyler-Horton, its state director.
Here’s what you need to know about changes to the absentee ballot process.
Request a ballot
What caused absentee voting to more than quadruple in 2020, compared with the gubernatorial election of 2018? The coronavirus drove interest, of course. But a big part of it was that voters received unsolicited absentee ballot applications in the mail. Those blanket mailings from local and state government offices are now illegal, and private organizations that sent applications last time around now face restrictions.
Any registered voter may cast an absentee or mail-in ballot, but now it is on the individual, or an authorized relative or person helping a voter with special needs, to request an application. One way to do this is to log into Georgia's My Voter Page.
Watch the timing
In the past, voters could request mail-in or absentee ballots 180 days before an election. The new law says the earliest a request can be made is 78 days before the election, reducing the timeline by more than half.
Haven’t yet requested one? The deadline to file an application has also been shortened. The last day to apply for an absentee ballot for the Nov. 2 election is now Friday, Oct. 22, a week earlier than the previous deadline.
Voters can log in to Georgia’s My Voter Page portal to find a link for an absentee ballot application, which they can print, fill out and then mail, fax, email or hand-deliver to a county registrar.
Completed ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 2, whether by mail or a drop box, or at an elections office. Voters are encouraged to mail their ballots at least one week before Election Day to make sure that their votes are received in time to count.
Have the right identification
Another new change: increased voter verification. Previously, a signature on the completed absentee ballot application was all that was required; now applicants must provide a Georgia driver’s license number or a number from another state-issued photo ID.
Those who don’t have a driver’s license or another ID issued by the state can provide a copy of a bank statement, paycheck, current utility bill or any government document with the voter’s name and address. The voter may also send a copy of a government-issued photo ID. A valid voter ID card can be obtained for free at a Department of Driver Services location or a county election or registrar’s office.
The same ID requirements apply when returning a completed absentee ballot. However, voters who don’t have a Georgia driver’s license or an acceptable ID card must include the last four digits of their Social Security number. Voters who don’t have Social Security numbers can provide a copy of a bank statement, paycheck, current utility bill or any government document with their name and address.
Plan the drop-off
Last year, secure ballot drop boxes were available 24/7 outside government buildings. Now they will be placed indoors at early voting locations, accessible only during early voting hours. (Go to the My Voter Page portal for locations and times.)
And while the new law now requires every Georgia county to provide at least one drop box, the number of boxes allowed is limited. A county is permitted only one additional drop box per 100,000 voters or for every early voting location, whichever number is smaller.
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