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Absentee-ballot reforms officially take effect in Georgia

Half a dozen provisions in Georgia’s new voting reform bill became law Thursday.

The bill containing 51 provisions was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp in March but has been criticized by Democrats and some corporate leaders. The state also has faced several lawsuits opposing the bill, including from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Most of the sections of the bill that became law Thursday make changes to the state’s absentee-ballot process. Former President Donald Trump and supporters raised questions about the absentee-ballot process after Trump lost the historically Republican state to President Joe Biden. Trump’s campaign and supporters also filed a lawsuit alleging misconduct and inconsistencies with the state’s signature matching process.

It is now law for absentee voters to write their driver’s license number, state ID card number, voter registration number or the last four digits of their Social Security number with their birthdate on ballots.

The provisions shorten the deadline for absentee-ballot requests and submissions and require voters to submit a photocopy of an approved form of identification with the application in the absence of a driver’s license or state ID card number. They also ban sending unsolicited absentee-ballot applications.

Registrars or absentee-ballot clerks must mail or issue official absentee ballots to all eligible applicants between 29 days and 25 days before a nonmunicipal election. The provisions also specify when election officials should release or report election results.

Democrats have said the new rules could make county election offices susceptible to litigation and increases their administrative burden.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Friday against Georgia, Georgia’s secretary of state and other election officials, alleging many of the same provisions block the right to vote for Georgians based on race.

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The department took issue with the portions of the bill that ban government entities from sending unsolicited absentee-ballot applications and fine civic organizations, churches and advocacy groups for sending them. It also opposes the shortening of deadlines for absentee ballots and out-of-precinct provisional ballots included in sections of the bill that became law Thursday.

Kemp and other Republicans have stood behind the bill that Republicans said increases election integrity and voting access. Kemp pointed out that the new law adds more early voting days, giving voters more flexibility.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s election integrity laws Thursday that ban ballot harvesting and require voters to vote in their assigned precinct. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger used the decision to clap back at the U.S. Department of Justice.

“In Georgia, it’s easy for eligible voters to vote. I call on the U.S. Department of Justice to heed this decision and dismiss their wrong, politically motivated lawsuit against Georgia,” Raffensperger said in a statement.

Deadlines are approaching for Georgia’s fall elections and a special state legislative runoff election July 13. Friday is the last day to submit absentee-ballot applications for the July 13 election.

The other provisions in the law became effective when Kemp signed it.

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