Tuesday Special Elections Are First Test Of New Georgia Law

ATLANTA (AP) — Cobb County Elections Director Janine Eveler’s most pressing problem with adhering to Georgia’s new election law before a June 15 special election is finding some heavy equipment to erect a large sign in front of a church that won’t be used as a voting precinct.

The election in Cobb is for a new state representative for House District 34, replacing Rep. Bert Reeves, who resigned. It is one of six such special elections to take place Tuesday. These will be the first to implement 44 provisions of Georgia’s controversial new election law. Parts of the legislation are in effect while the law simultaneously faces seven different suits.

One section in the new law requires advanced notice with large signage in front of a polling place that has been changed and is no longer in use. This measure was one of few bipartisan provisions in the law taken from a bill introduced by freshman Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Grayson Democrat.

“The biggest issue right now is finding a ‘metal fence post driver,’ and people strong enough to install a four foot by four foot sign at a church we’re no longer using for a poll,” Eveler said. “The sign has to be in the ground on their property for a week before the election, and it’s huge.”

There are six sections within the law that do not take effect until July 1. The rest went into effect when Gov. Brian Kemp signed the legislation on March 25.

In addition to requiring identification to request an absentee ballot, the new law cuts the days allowed for requesting an absentee ballot, shortens early voting before runoff elections, provides fewer drop boxes than allowed during the pandemic, allows the state to take over county election offices and bars people from giving food and water to voters within 150 feet (45 meters) of a polling place.

Eveler said the part not going into effect deals mostly with absentee ballots. For the special election, the window for requesting absentee ballots was the same, and ballots will still be verified through signature matching instead of driver’s license number or other forms of identification.

“The hardest thing about the House District 34 special election is implementing only those things that are in effect now and remembering not to implement those things that go into effect on July 1,” she said.

Cobb County Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, a Democrat, said she’s heard from constituents and even people outside of the state who are unsettled by the new law, especially after the Major League Baseball All-Star game was moved out of Atlanta following election law controversy.

“People had a lot of concern about this here in the county,” Cupid said in a recent news conference with Fresh Take Georgia. “It’ll be interesting to see if there’s going to be any movement to help modify some of the provisions of that bill before next year’s election.”

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Georgia, a news service of the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University. The reporter can be reached at aceballos@freshtakegeorgia.org.