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Voting

What Black Voters Should Know Ahead of Election Season in Georgia

We help you make sense of how to register to vote, the new requirements, added restrictions and key dates on the horizon.

Voters wait to cast early ballots in December 2020 at a Midtown polling station for the runoff election. Georgians planning to vote this year will encounter new requirements and restrictions. (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Record turnout from Black Georgia voters in the 2020 elections and January 2021 runoffs helped secure a win for President Joe Biden and two Democratic U.S. Senate seats.

The numbers  — 4.9 million votes cast in the presidential election alone — are even more impressive when you consider the challenges voters experienced in 2020: hours-long voting lines and equipment failures at precincts in predominantly Black neighborhoods throughout metro Atlanta.

In an ideal world, this process would become easier for Georgians before the next important elections. But activists, Democratic politicians, and academics warn that the controversial voting law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp last year makes voting harder and gives state Republicans free rein to disenfranchise Black voters in places like Fulton County. 

“It is going to be more difficult in many cases,” said Dr. Pearl Dowe, the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Oxford College at Emory University. “That’s why the time for preparation is now if you plan to vote this season.”

The law, SB 202, makes sweeping changes to how and when we can vote, who is in charge of our local voting decisions, and what happens after we vote. It’s important to understand how the law might change your usual voting plan, and what you need to do to get your house in order in advance of this year’s big voting days, starting with the primaries on May 24. 

How to Register to Vote in Georgia

The most important thing you can do before the primaries is get registered. If you think you already are, make sure your voter registration is up to date and active. 

Being prepared and using local voting resources is paramount for Black voters in the days leading up to any election.

“Black voters have typically turned to reliable sources in our community,” Dowe said. “Any voter education efforts, voter registration mobilization units, or any reliable source that Black voters have used in the past need to be telling people now that you need to prepare now for November elections.”

The first step in that process is ensuring that you are registered to vote. 

If you think you are already registered to vote and want to know your status, you can confirm on the Georgia election website by entering your first initial, last name, county of residence, and date of birth. It’s important to check before the voter registration deadline so that you have time to register if you need to.

If you aren’t yet registered, you have to meet five basic requirements in the state of Georgia.

You must be a United States citizen, resident of Georgia, and over the age of 18. Georgia residents who are 17 can register to vote if their 18th birthday falls at least six months before Election Day. 

Depending on the county, you must register to vote in the county that is listed as your primary address on your state ID. For example, if the address on your ID card is in Fulton County, you must register to vote in Fulton.

People convicted of a felony can vote in the state of Georgia as long as they have completed their sentence, probation, and parole, and paid all necessary fines. You can find more info here.

Registration takes 5-10 minutes and can be completed in person at your local election office, submitted online, or sent by mail. If you’re registering in person or online, your registration must be completed by the fifth Monday before the election. Mail-in applications must be postmarked by the fifth Monday before the election.

What SB 202 means for Black voters

Last year, Kemp signed into law sweeping voting restrictions with potentially major implications for elections in 2022. These are some that could have a significant affect Black voters: 

Absentee Ballots

What’s changed: Under SB 202, voters will now have just 11 to 78 days before an election to request an absentee ballot in time for an upcoming race. It is also now illegal for local election boards to automatically mail absentee ballots to all registered voters. Finally, a state ID or driver’s license number must now be submitted when requesting an absentee ballot. 

What it means for Black voters: In 2020, Black voters accounted for 30% of votes cast by mail. And while the pandemic led to an increase in voting by mail for Black and white voters, the increase was smaller for whites. 

What can you do: If you plan to vote by absentee ballot, make sure you have all the necessary information to submit the application in time for Election Day. Creating a checklist is a great way to keep track. Make sure you also know where your local election office is if you prefer to submit applications in person. 

Drop Boxes

What’s changed: State law limits each county to 1 drop box per 100,000 active registered voters, or one for each early voting location. The law also says drop boxes must be placed inside early voting sites or at elections offices, and they can only be used during set hours. In 2020, by comparison, drop boxes could be placed outdoors and made available to voters 24 hours a day.

What it means for Black voters: In 2020, most absentee voters in metro Atlanta relied on drop boxes as an accessible way to ensure their ballots were received. Nearly 56% of absentee voters in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett counties used the boxes, according to ballot transfer forms. With limits on hours and box availability, numbers will inevitably drop in the 2022 midterm season.

What can you do: It’s important to note that boxes will no longer be available for public use after the early voting period ends. This year, early voting for the state primary election starts May 2 and ends May 20. Early voting for the state general election starts Oct. 17 and runs through Nov. 4. Information about hours and locations can be found on your local county board of elections website.

State ID

What’s changed: Needing an ID to vote was always necessary for Georgia voters who wanted to participate in person on Election Day. However, for those who wanted to vote by absentee ballot, you did not need to show proof of a state ID before requesting and submitting a mail-in ballot. Instead, election board officials relied on a signature requirement to verify a person’s identity. Now, under SB 202, voters who want to request an absentee ballot must also submit a driver’s license or state ID number. The new law does allow for voters without an ID to submit the last four digits of their Social Security number for identification.

What it means for Black voters: The new state ID requirements will disproportionately affect Black voters, who are less likely to have ID numbers that match their voter registration, according to election data analyzed by the Brennan Center for Justice. Without a valid state ID, this means Black voters will be more likely to have their absentee ballot requests rejected.

What can you do: In 2016, the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles started automatically registering voters based on the county represented on their state ID. If you have not renewed or updated your state ID since then, ensure that all the information is accurate. If you have moved or changed your given name, update your license information as soon as possible online or at your local DMV. 

State Election Board

What’s changed: Under previous law, decisions about disqualifying ballots and voter eligibility were made by county election boards. The new law gives the state board power to assign an administrator for managing county elections. It also allows a county’s state legislators to request a performance review of their boards or probate judge that supervises elections. If the board or judge is found unsatisfactory, the state board has the power to suspend them for up to nine months. 

What it means for Black voters: Dowe says that raises doubts for Black voters. “The question with this new law becomes if the state intervenes and places new officials on these county boards, are they going to be bipartisan actors,” Dowe said. “When we get to the election, the concern is if these persons are partisan in counting ballots and how will they manage upholding those processes.”

Between former President Donald Trump trying to overturn the election results in Georgia and false claims of voter fraud in Black precincts, misinformation leads to more confusion.

“These conspiracy theories about fraud were created to benefit a particular party and a particular person,” Dowe said. “Unfortunately, because of this, we, as Black voters, have to prepare in a way to show up in a way that white voters don’t and that’s what proves disenfranchisement and the inequity in our citizenship.”

What can you do: Voters can find their current election board member by going to their county website. Depending on the size of your county board, there should be an even number of members representing each party, creating a bipartisan board. For example, in Fulton where there are four board members, two represent the Republican Party and two represent the Democratic Party. It’s important to know who those representatives are, in the event of state intervention. If removed and replaced with a state-appointed representative, there is no clarity in the law that states if the new representative will uphold the integrity of the bipartisan board.

Food Provisions

What’s changed: Before SB 202, organizations were allowed to pass food and water to voters while standing in line. Now, it is a misdemeanor to give food or water away within 150 feet of a polling location, or within 25 feet of voters. 

What it means for Black voters: In Black communities, voting rights advocates frequently passed out food and water to voters who were more likely to endure long lines and crowded polling places. Depending on the location, Black voters will now have to endure long lines without access to water or food at some point.

What can you do: Groups are technically still allowed to pass water and food to voters, just as long as it is done within the parameters of SB 202 restrictions. However, your safest option is to pack a light snack just in case.

Key Dates and Races in 2022 

With several important seats up for grabs, here are the positions that Georgians will vote on in 2022:

  • Governor
  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House
  • State Senate
  • State House
  • State appellate court judges
  • State Supreme Court
  • State executives:
    • Lieutenant Governor
    • Attorney General
    • Secretary of State
    • Superintendent of Public Instruction
    • Agriculture Commissioner
    • Labor Commissioner
    • Insurance Commissione
    • Public Service Commissioner

Several metro Atlanta counties will vote on the members of their school boards this year as well. 

  • School boards:
    • Cherokee County
    • Cobb County
    • Clayton County
    • DeKalb County
    • Forsyth County
    • Fulton County
    • Gwinnett County
    • Henry County

Knowing important dates ahead of the election will give Georgians the opportunity to have your voices heard in the races that are most important to you. 

Here are some key dates for 2022:

May 24 — The first major date in this season will be the General Primary Election that is scheduled for May 24. On this date, voters will vote for their respective primary candidates for governor, U.S. Senate and House and state Senate and House. For voters, the May election is the first step in selecting the two candidates who will represent the Democratic and Republican parties in the November primary. Knowing your candidates ahead of voting day will ensure that you are prepared to cast the vote for your candidate of choice. Registration is currently open and eligible Georgians will need to submit applications by April 25. 

June 21 — This date is reserved for potential runoff elections. A runoff occurs between the top two finishers in a primary, if the primary winner doesn’t get at least 50% of the vote. All registered voters from the May primary will have the opportunity to vote again in the instance of a runoff election.

Nov. 8 — The November General Election is when voters make their choices for a new governor and open congressional and Senate seats, as well as other local officials. Eligible residents will need to register to vote by Oct. 11 to participate in this election.

Dec. 6 — In the event of a runoff at this election stage, Georgians will need to head back to the polls on Dec. 6. As for the governor’s race, if 2018 was any indication, it’s going to be a close one.