Georgia has allowed no-excuse absentee voting for all elections since 2005. It was part of a voting bill passed that year by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law by the Republican Governor, Sonny Perdue.
The 2005 bill was best known for requiring a photo ID to vote in Georgia. But Republicans decided that no ID should be required to vote absentee. At the time, Georgia Republicans argued that absentee voting was more secure than in-person voting:
"For those willing to commit fraud, there is a paper trail with absentee ballots which does not exist with electronic voting," argued [Republican election official J. Randolph] Evans. "In addition to the request for the absentee ballot, as well as the other records maintained, the ballot itself serves as a paper record. If challenged, and found to be fraudulent, the ballot can itself be removed before being cast."
Because of that, "the absentee ballot is safer and more secure than a paperless electronic voting system where there is no effective remedy once a vote has been cast."
Here is how The Atlanta Journal-Constitution covered the signing of the law by Perdue on April 23, 2005:
Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law a bill which wipes out several currently accepted forms of voter identification so that only photo IDs can be used...
Critics in the Legislature said Georgia's law would be one of the most restrictive in the nation.
The new Georgia law also allows people to vote absentee without an excuse, and for a longer period. Those votes by mail would not require a picture ID.
Political observers say Republicans tend to benefit the most from absentee balloting.
For 15 years, those political observers were right. Republicans and white voters took advantage of no-excuse absentee voting more than Democrats and voters of color.
Then, in the 2020 presidential election, things changed. For the first time, Black voters took advantage of absentee voting more frequently than white voters. The shift coincided with an upset victory in the state by Joe Biden.
Although vote-by-mail usage exploded for all racial groups, it increased less for white voters than for others. Although white voters still made up a majority of mail voters, their share of the vote-by-mail electorate dropped from 67 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2020; the Black share, meanwhile, surged from 23 percent to 31 percent...nearly 30 percent of Black voters cast their ballot by mail in 2020, but just 24 percent of white voters did so.
On Monday, the Georgia Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, voted 29-20 to end no-excuse absentee voting on a party-line vote.
Under the bill, most Georgians would be allowed to vote absentee only if they are in the military, away from their precinct, observing a religious holiday, caring for someone with a disability, or required to work "for the protection of the health, life, or safety of the public during the entire time the polls are open." The bill also adds an ID requirement for absentee ballots.
Republicans now argue that absentee voting must be restricted because it is inherently less secure. "As we get further away from voting in person, we get further away from the highest level of security in elections,” said Jake Evans, chair of the Georgia chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
The bill passed by the Georgia Senate, however, carves out an exception for voters that are 65 or older. They will be able to continue voting by absentee without an excuse. Why? As a new report from the Brennan Center reveals, in 2020, "fewer than half of vote-by-mail participants under 65 years old were white." But a more than 60 percent of absentee voters over 65 were white. Therefore, "legislation restricting mail voting for younger voters disproportionately benefits white voters."
Thirteen of the Georgia Senators who voted for the bill on Monday also signed onto a brief urging the United States Supreme Court to invalidate millions of votes in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It was part of a last-ditch effort to install Trump for a second term based on his false claims of voter fraud.
"The purpose of 241 and all of the vote-limiting bills we have before us is to validate a lie. It is to prevent massive voter turnout from happening again, especially in minority communities," State Senator Nikki Merritt (D) said on Monday.
Many of the other voting restrictions being proposed in the Georgia legislature target black voters. A bill that recently passed the Georgia House, for example, would limit early voting on Sundays. "Black voters (who make up 30 percent of the registered electorate) accounted for 36.5 percent of Sunday voters, but just 26.8 percent of early in-person voters on other days," the Brennan Center notes.
Signs of life from the business community?
Last week, Popular Information reported on the corporate donors — including Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, and UPS — behind the Georgia legislators pushing major voter suppression bills in the House and Senate. Although these corporations claim to support voting rights, none have publicly opposed the bills or pledged to divest from their sponsors. They have ignored a campaign from a coalition of civil rights groups urging them to take action.
There are new indications, however, that change might be on the way.
In a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Coca-Cola said it supported efforts by the "Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session." UPS made a similar statement.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce is part of a group organized by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) called the Bipartisan Task Force for Safe, Secure, and Accessible Elections. It is a diverse group, which also includes the ACLU and the Georgia NAACP.
On Monday, the task force released a statement criticizing the Georgia legislature's "legislative process" on bills to restrict voting:
As we monitor the progress of elections-related legislation in the Georgia General Assembly, we are concerned that the legislative process is proceeding at a pace that does not allow full examination of all the factors that must be considered. There is a need for responsible elections policymaking to be deliberate and evidence-based, not rushed. When we see proposals that properly balance voter access with integrity, we will voice support.
The last line is key. The task force is saying that it will endorse legislation that it supports. Since it has not endorsed any bill, this implies that, at present, task force opposes all voting legislation in the legislature.
This is a long way from Coca-Cola or other major corporations speaking out against voter suppression legislation, but it is a sign of progress.