Georgia lawmakers are considering a number of bills that would affect how citizens vote, including provisions to limit absentee, early and provisional voting.
Debate has centered around the effects on minority voters, considered mainly a Democratic constituency. However, in solidly red Floyd County, it’s mostly Republican voters who make use of those options. About a dozen bills that could curtail them have passed at least one chamber of the Georgia General Assembly.
The 2020 presidential election marked a shift in how voters cast their ballots and it’s unclear if the habits will remain after the pandemic is gone. However, a comparison with other recent statewide elections may give an indication of how many local residents could be affected if restrictions are enacted.
Last year, 8,510 Floyd Countians chose to deliver their presidential election votes by mail or through drop boxes. Former president Donald Trump carried the county by nearly 70% over President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and Jo Jorgensen, a Libertarian.
Absentee ballots accounted for 20.5% of the 41,648 total votes cast in 2020.
It was about 4% in both the 2018 governor’s race, 1,260 people, and the 2016 presidential contest, 1,355 people. Drop boxes were not available in those years.
The Republican candidates each pulled about 70% of the total vote in the county.
Among the changes up for debate this year are the elimination of no-excuse absentee voting, stricter ID requirements and limits on drop boxes. The sweeping Senate Bill 241 is under consideration in the House.
Also in the House, SB 202 would prohibit political parties and other organizations from mailing absentee ballot requests to anyone who is not a registered voter or to anyone who has already voted.
The three week period of early voting, including several weekend dates, is overwhelmingly popular in Floyd County.
There were 22,718 people who took advantage of the option in 2020.
The nearly 55% of the total votes cast repeated the percentage in 2016, when 18,846 of the 34,357 people who voted went early. Advance voting drew 13,688 local voters in the governor’s election of 2016, just over 45%.
House Bill 531 contains a provision that would limit weekend voting to the second Saturday and either the third Saturday or third Sunday. It is now in the Senate.
Less than 1% of the votes cast in recent local elections were provisionals — paper ballots used when the voter’s eligibility can’t be determined at the polling place.
Still, that accounted for 170 people who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to weigh in on the 2020 presidential contest, with 112 of those votes going to Trump. It was just over 100 people each in 2018 and 2016.
Currently the ballots can be accepted at any polling place in the county where the voter is registered. HB 531 would toss out all provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
Among other changes embedded in the various bills are requirements for local elections offices to update their voter rolls every 30 days, count votes continuously until they’re done, and prohibit them from releasing partial returns.
Monday will be the 32nd day of the 40-day session. With Friday off, lawmakers are scheduled to wrap up for the year on March 31.
Floyd County’s four delegates can be reached via phone or email:
♦ Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, 404-656-0034 or firstname.lastname@example.org, represents all of Floyd and parts of Chattooha, Gordon and Bartow counties.
♦ Rep. Katie Dempsey, 404-463-2248 or email@example.com, represents Rome and central Floyd County.
♦ Rep. Eddie Lumsden, 404-656-7850 or firstname.lastname@example.org, represents western Floyd, including Cave Spring and Shannon, and all of Chattooga County.
Rep. Mitchell Scoggins, 404-656-0254 or email@example.com, represents southeastern Floyd and northern Bartow counties.