Georgia’s new elections law may have effects on local governments


By: William Linkous

Georgia’s new elections law, which has been widely reported upon nationally, passed the Georgia General Assembly during the 2021 session and was signed into law by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp near the end of March. The 95-page revision may significantly affect the operations of local governments, which are often tasked with handling elections and registrations through their election superintendents, boards of registrars, boards of elections, or boards of elections and registration.

Some provisions of the new law will impact the budgeting of local governments. Section 18 of the new law provides that in jurisdictions with 2,000 or more electors, if electors have to wait for an hour or more in line on election day, elections superintendents must reduce the size of the precinct or utilize more equipment (or both) in the next election, thus increasing elections expenses for local governments in the future. Sections 9 and 14 of the new law prohibit election superintendents and boards of registrations from taking any funding, grants, or gifts except from the local government, State, or Federal Government. These provisions will impact the elections budgets of some jurisdictions that received large private grants for their election operations during the most recent elections, thus defraying costs to the local government. Section 26 of the new law requires each board of registrars or absentee ballot clerk to establish at least one dropbox as a means for absentee by mail electors to deliver their ballots. Of course, the law allows more drop boxes to be used, up to prescribed limits. The drop boxes can only be placed in locations with adequate lighting, constant surveillance by officials, anti-tampering measures, and daily collection of ballots by a team of two workers who meet certain qualifications. In some jurisdictions, the dropbox requirement may require a budget increase.

The expansion of early voting in most Georgia locations may also affect local government budgets. There will be at least seventeen days of early voting under the new law, including two Saturdays and the option of offering voting on Sundays as well. The budgets of rural local governments may be more heavily impacted by this expansion because staffing will be needed for at least two Saturdays, whereas most urban counties already utilize two Saturdays for early voting.

Some of the provisions of the new law provide for increased scrutiny and accountability for elections officials. Section 6 of the new law allows the State Elections Board to suspend county or municipal superintendents and appoint replacements. Under Sections 7 and 12 a governing authority of a county or municipality can request a performance review or an investigation into the actions of the local superintendent or board, and the State Elections Board can also initiate a review or investigation itself. The extensive investigation and hearing process can result in a suspension with pay of a superintendent or board member, or even in their permanent removal. The State Board of Elections can appoint a replacement for the official during the suspension, but the law is unclear who pays the replacement. Local governments will be wise to closely review the operations of their elections and registrations divisions because of this added scrutiny.

Numerous provisions also change the administration of registrations and elections. Some are subtle. For instance, Section 11 allows poll officers to be permitted to serve in adjoining counties in some instances. Sections 15 and 16 contain subtle changes to the method for challenging registrars and electors, including the removal of limits on the number of challenges that can be made by an elector which by itself could impact operations. Section 20 restricts the types of places that can be utilized for advance voting locations. Section 23 requires that ballots be printed on security paper to authenticate them. Some of the less subtle changes in the administration of registration and elections under the new law include the fact that absentee ballot applications and ballots are primarily verified under the new law by name, date of birth, address, and driver’s license number, last four digits of one’s social security number, or another identification number, rather than verified by signature as in the past. The new law also shortens the timeline for requesting and returning ballots too. Electors may request ballots 78 days before an election (as opposed to 180 days) and ballot applications must be received by the clerk no later than eleven days prior to the election, which is earlier than under the previous law. Finally, the law also abbreviates the runoff period by requiring that a runoff be held 28 days after the initial election. These administrative changes will require careful analysis by local governments of their election and registration operations.

For more information about this topic, please contact William Linkous at [email protected]