Georgia’s newest voting legislation has stirred up a hurricane of political sensationalism and media bias this month, leaving much of the public confused about what the law actually does and why it remains controversial.

The bill, titled “Election Integrity Act of 2021” or SB 202, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on March 25. It is 98 pages long, and like most 98-page bills, it includes many different provisions, each with its own context and history. The overall left-right divide over the bill comes down to whether it improves Georgia’s election systems to increase security and confidence in them, or whether such steps are a way to disenfranchise and discourage voters, especially black voters. Both Republicans and Democrats have argued that the other side is trying to rig the system for its own political gain.

Here is a quick overview of the law’s sections and the arguments about each (scroll down for more detail about each):

Requires a Photo ID for absentee ballots

  • The photo ID requirement is one of the most controversial provisions in the bill.
  • Do photo ID laws disenfranchise legal voters, or are photo IDs used so commonly for other things (driving, purchasing alcohol) that they add security without reducing voter access?

Changes dates and prohibits government unsolicited mailings of absentee ballots applications

  • The window for applying for an absentee ballot was reduced from 24 weeks to 10 weeks, and government officials were banned from mailing absentee ballot applications to eligible voters unsolicited.
  • Were absentee ballots overly promoted, opening the door for fraud and harassment, or are these concerns overblown? Does reducing the overall use of absentee ballots better secure elections or disenfranchise voters and reduce turnout?

Rules on ballot drop boxes and mobile voting centers

  • Mobile voting centers had not been approved or defined by the legislature and did not exist prior to the 2020 election. They were discontinued for future elections. The broad usage of ballot drop boxes was also new and were reduced relative to the 2020 election.
  • Do these new rules constitute a needed definition of election law or reflect a desired return to normalcy (more similar to elections before COVID that had more in-person voting), or are they unduly restrictive since they reduce new voting opportunities implemented for the 2020 election amid covid-19?

Changes to voting schedules

  • The law adds overall voting hours, but limits the flexibility of judges to change those hours in addressing election day problems. The law also shortens the time period before runoff elections.
  • Do these changes give one party or the other an unfair advantage, particularly considering the key role of runoffs in handing Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats to Democrats?

Restrictions on giving food and water to voters in line

  • While the new law says that poll workers may provide water to voters waiting in line, it strictly prohibits anyone else from doing so within 150 feet of a building where voting is taking place or within 25 feet of any voter waiting in line.
  • Does this law protect voters from campaigns using food and water to influence them at voting centers, or is it an undue hardship on voters who sometimes face hours-long lines to vote?

Limits on provisional ballot eligibility

  • Georgia voters are no longer able to fill out a provisional ballot if they go to the wrong precinct to vote before 5pm on Election Day.
  • Does this restriction reduce logistical and ballot security concerns, or does it discourage voter participation by forcing some voters to travel to the correct voting location?

Potential for partisan influence in county elections

  • The law takes control of the State Election Board —which can now take control of county election offices —away from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and gives it to the Republican-controlled state legislature and a “nonpartisan” chairperson.
  • Does this reduce political influence from both political parties or just shift that influence from Democratic county officials to Republican state legislators?

We expand on each of the law’s provisions below, then explore perspectives on it in depth.

New Restrictions on Absentee Ballots, Including Photo ID

SB 202 requires voters to provide the number associated with their driver’s license, identification card, Social Security card or another form of identification in order to submit an absentee ballot. Most states don’t require an ID for mail-in or absentee voting, unless you’re a first-time voter who registered by mail and didn’t provide an ID when you registered. Georgia already had a photo ID requirement for in-person voting. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan group, while 36 states require some kind of identification at polls, six states have “strict photo ID” laws, three have “strict non-photo ID” laws, 12 have “non-strict photo ID” laws, 14 have “non-strict non-photo ID” laws, and 15 have no ID requirements.

Voter ID is one of the most prominent controversies in election law. While 76% of Americans favor requiring a photo ID to vote (see Pew Research survey results below), many argue that it disenfranchises voters, especially black voters and others who are less likely to have a photo ID. However, some research suggests that voter ID laws don’t significantly reduce turnout or fraud, the two main reasons cited for and against it.

Changes dates and ends government unsolicited mailings of absentee ballots applications

The law cuts the time voters have to request an absentee ballot in half, from about 24 weeks to about 10 weeks. Note that Georgia still allows no-excuse absentee voting (there has been confusion about that since earlier forms of the bills ended that practice).

Furthermore, the law bans public officials from mailing voters unsolicited absentee ballot applications. In April 2020, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger mailed Georgia voters absentee ballot applications for the primary elections. Raffensperger did not repeat the move for the general election, but some urban counties did. This policy differs substantially from voting rules states like Colorado, which mails ballots, not just applications, to its active registered voters. Ten states and Washington, D.C. mailed absentee ballots to voters in 2020, with 12 states mailing absentee ballot applications.

Rules on ballot drop boxes and mobile voting centers

SB 202 specifies that each county must have at least one ballot drop box, and that counties may only add additional drop boxes “totaling the lesser of either one drop box for every 100,000 active registered voters in the county or the number of advance voting locations in the county.” The widespread use of drop boxes was new for Georgia in 2020, with previous state election laws not mentioning them at all.

With the new provision, small counties that had no drop boxes before would have more drop boxes, but larger counties would have much fewer. The New York Times (Lean Left) estimates that the four counties that make up metropolitan Atlanta would go from 94 drop boxes in 2020 to just 23 under the new law. The law also requires drop boxes be placed indoors (unless the governor declares an emergency) at an election official’s office or at early voting sites. The drop boxes will only be available during hours when early voting sites are open and must be kept under constant surveillance. Previously, outdoor drop boxes in Georgia were available at all hours.

The law also says mobile voting units, buses that acted as portable voting precincts in 2020, can only be used by counties if the governor declares an emergency, and can only supplement the capacity of a polling place where the emergency occurred.

Changes to voting schedules

Overall, the law expands Georgia’s minimum early voting requirement to 17 days (or 19, if a county chooses to include Sundays). SB 202 specifies that early voting centers will be open from 9am to 5pm, with counties given the option to start as early as 7am and close as late as 7pm. Before SB 202, counties were allowed to determine their own hours within “normal business hours.”

The law also adds one required Saturday (for a total of two) of early voting and allows counties to provide two optional Sundays. Sunday early voting, which Georgia Republicans considered prohibiting, is important to some black communities in Georgia because black churches hold “souls to the polls” events after Sunday services.

Additionally, SB 202 limits judges’ ability to extend hours at voting centers when an unforeseen event, such as a power outage, keeps people from voting for a certain period of time. For instance, judges used to be able to add an hour of time if the power went out for 30 minutes earlier in the day; now, time added must equal the amount of voting time lost.

Finally, the law shortens Georgia’s unique runoff elections from nine weeks to four, a move purportedly intended to make the process less exhausting for election administrators. Under the new system, early runoff voting starts “as soon as possible” but no later than the second Monday before the election. This does not require weekend voting and could mean as little as five weekdays of early runoff voting. Georgia’s runoffs are a particular point of contention because Republicans, who crafted SB 202, narrowly lost both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats to Democrats in runoff elections this year, handing Democrats a narrow majority in the Senate and creating a window for President Joe Biden to pass his agenda. In other words, changes to Georgia’s runoffs could have fundamentally changed the course of partisan politics, and could do so again in the future.

Restrictions on giving food and water to voters in line

Perhaps one of SB 202’s most well-known provisions, the law prohibits “any person” other than poll workers from giving food and drink, among other things, to voters “within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; within any polling place; or within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.” However, people may still give such items to poll workers to use at their discretion.

To support this provision, Republican lawmakers pointed to past election day complaints of abuses by campaigns (from both parties) of using food and water to ignore the 150 feet no-electioneering zone. Democrats emphasized that Georgian voting centers have seen long lines in the past, sometimes in hot temperatures; in the June 2020 primary elections, many Georgians waited up to four hours to vote. A Snopes (Center) analysis found that only two states, Montana and New York, had similarly strict bans. However, several states restrict food and beverage donations near polling places from people advocating for a particular candidate. Additionally, several states ban giving alcoholic beverages to voters.

Limits on provisional ballot eligibility

SB 202 requires voters who arrive at the wrong precinct before 5pm on Election Day, who before could fill out a provisional ballot, to travel to the correct polling place to vote if there is still time before the polls close. If not, they are permitted to fill out a provisional ballot. The debate in this case is between the need for making provisional ballots easier to cast and the logistical challenges represented in making sure that provisional ballots are valid. A New York Times (Lean Left) analysis of this provision notes that in 2020 “roughly 44 percent of provisional ballots in the state were from ‘out of precinct voters.’” However, the analysis provides no data on whether the new rules would prevent those voters from voting.

Potential for partisan influence in county elections

SB 202 takes control of the State Election Board away from the secretary of state, currently Brad Raffensperger, and gives it to a “nonpartisan” chairperson elected by the General Assembly, Georgia’s Republican-controlled state legislature. The law also gives the General Assembly the ability to appoint three of the five members of the board, the other two being appointed by “each political party.” The secretary of state is made a nonvoting member of the board. Furthermore, the State Election Board can now suspend county and municipal elections officials and replace them with temporary superintendents. While there are protections in place intended to keep the board nonpartisan, the new process creates a path by which partisan elected officials could influence the election administration decisions of individual counties.

What national, political and media figures have said about SB 202

Georgia’s election overhaul began in late February and was part of a broad push by Republicans to pass over 200 election-related bills in at least 43 states. In part due to early proposals like ending no-excuse absentee voting and banning Sunday early voting, Republican proposals in Georgia gained a reputation for being “restrictive,” with most criticism and attention coming from left- and center-rated media outlets. While the most restrictive proposals didn’t make the final cut, left-rated news outlets still tend to approach SB 202 based on its reputation as “restrictive.”

The legacy of these earlier proposals can be seen in some of the public statements made by the bill’s critics. For instance, Sen. Chuck Schumer criticized Republicans on March 24, saying, “Republicans recently passed a bill to eliminate early voting on Sunday.” While technically correct—Republicans had passed a version of the bill in the Georgia House of Representatives that banned Sunday early voting—Schumer’s statement was labeled “mostly false” by Politifact (Lean Left) for creating the impression that the Sunday ban had been signed into law.

Some of the most highly publicized rhetoric criticizing SB 202 came from President Joe Biden, who on multiple occasions tied the bill to “Jim Crow” laws that historically discriminated against racial minorities. Biden’s remarks echo early criticisms of the Republican proposals, which critics said would disproportionately negatively impact black people. Biden’s “Jim Crow” remarks led to widespread criticism from the right, with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie saying, “He is lying to cause racial divisions in this country. That's what he accused Donald Trump of doing, and he's a liar and a hypocrite.” Biden was also called out by The Washington Post (Lean Left) for falsely stating that SB 202 would end voting at 5pm, despite the law only affecting early voting and giving precincts the option to stay open until 7pm.

The situation intensified as corporations, under pressure to demonstrate social leadership, criticized and even boycotted Georgia for passing the new law. While Major League Baseball’s decision to move its All-Star Game from Georgia to Colorado has gained top headlines, some of Georgia’s largest employers, like Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines, have also joined the movement condemning the Georgia law. Many companies were persuaded to act by black executives like Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, who told peers that “There is no middle ground here. You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.” Republicans responded to corporate action with criticisms of their own. Sen. Mitch McConnell said that corporations should “stay out of politics,” warning that “corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs.” Former President Donald Trump even called for a boycott of Coca-Cola over its criticism of the Georgia bill (although he was caught later apparently hiding a Coke bottle on his desk in a photo).

What Georgians have said

Georgia Republicans took to mainstream media to defend SB 202. Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed the bill into law, addressed the corporate backlash, saying, “I would encourage these CEOs to look at other states that they’re doing business in and compare what the real facts are to Georgia.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom former President Donald Trump famously called in early January in an attempt to find votes to salvage his election defeat, defended SB 202 to several news outlets. Raffensperger also wrote an op-ed in National Review (Right), in which he argues that claims the bill restricts voting are false, noting it was “the majority of Georgia voters, Georgia Democrats, and black voters in Georgia who supported the commonsense effort. Studies show that voter-ID laws don’t decrease turnout. Georgia’s voter-turnout numbers and percentages have hit records repeatedly since we introduced photo ID for in-person voting” and that “Georgia has the most successful automatic voter-registration program in the country.” Raffensperger also said the legislation “moves Georgia from the subjective signature-match identity-verification process for absentee-ballot voting to objective ID numbers from photo IDs, free voter IDs, or other documents... With such close elections, moving to an objective standard takes pressure off of our local election officials.”

Raffensperger’s statements on SB 202 highlight key factors in the bill’s passing. For instance, he told NPR (Center) the bill was passed soon after the election because Georgia has a 40-day legislative session that regularly starts in January: “This is the year that it was going to happen, then you'd have to wait for another year, another January.” Gabriel Sterling, the Georgia elections official who publicly criticized Trump’s election fraud claims in January, was similarly defensive of SB 202, telling CNN, “I wouldn’t have written the bill this way, the secretary wouldn’t have written the bill this way, but there’s lots of good, boring election administration stuff in this bill.”

Georgia’s Democratic leaders also had plenty to say. Stacey Abrams criticized some corporations for not taking strong enough stances against the new bill, saying she was “deeply disappointed” that companies waited until after the bill had passed to take a stand. On boycotts, Abrams said that “voters that are the most suppressed over [the new law] are the most likely to be hurt by potential boycotts of Georgia. To our friends, please do not boycott us.” Georgia’s two Democratic senators also weighed in. After the bill was passed, Sen. Raphael Warnock said that “what the state Legislature did yesterday is to try to arrest the voices and the votes of the people.” Sen. Jon Ossoff broke with Warnock, Abrams and Biden in opposing Major League Baseball’s boycott of Georgia, instead calling for corporations to stop funding Republican candidates: “I absolutely oppose and reject any notion of boycotting Georgia.”

What public opinion says about election policy

Pew Research results from 2018, from most supported to least supported:

  • Automatically updating voter registrations when people move (87% favor, GOP 84%, Dem 90%)
  • Requiring electronic voting machines to print a paper backup of the ballot (85%, GOP 84%, Dem 87%)
  • Removing inaccurate and duplicate registrations from voter lists using automatic methods (77%, GOP 85%, Dem 70%)
  • Requiring all voters to show government-issued photo ID to vote (76%, GOP 91%, Dem 63%)
  • Allowing people convicted of felonies to vote after serving their sentences (69%, GOP 55%, Dem 82%)
  • Making Election Day a national holiday (65%, GOP 59%, Dem 71%)
  • Automatically registering all eligible citizens to vote (65%, GOP 49%, Dem 78%)
  • Allowing people to register on Election Day at the polls (64%, GOP 49%, Dem 78%)
  • Removing people from registration lists if they have not recently voted or confirmed their registration (37% favor to 62% opposed, GOP 53%, Dem 24%)
  • Conducting all elections by mail (34% favor to 65% opposed, GOP 26%, Dem 40%)

Editor’s Picks for further reading on both sides

Law is restrictive:

Law isn’t restrictive:


Joseph Ratliff is AllSides’ Daily News Specialist; he has a Lean Left bias. This piece was reviewed by Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing (Lean Right bias), CEO and co-founder John Gable (Lean Right), News Editor Micaela Ricaforte (Center), and Managing Editor Henry Brechter (Center). Note that edits were made after initial publication to avoid unintended bias or confusion to the photo ID section and to the summary of the rules of ballot boxes and mobile voting centers. We welcome feedback to further improve our coverage.