On a press call with Democratic nominee for Georgia Secretary of State Bee Nguyen, she discussed her outlook regarding the administration of Georgia’s midterm elections. Before she headed to the Pittsburgh community to mobilize volunteers and for one final get out the vote push, Nguyen made it clear that the more than 2.2 million Georgians cast their ballots during the early voting period does not mean the right to vote is equitable due to the passage of Senate Bill 202 in the 2021 Georgia Legislative Session.
“Georgia and Democrats and other organizations have made a huge effort to push voters to vote early and to vote in person,” Nguyen said. “Understanding that the new restrictions around Senate Bill 202 and absentee ballot voting has made it more difficult for Georgia voters. We know that under Senate Bill 202 The rejection rate has increased for the application to vote by mail.”
As of 8:00 AM, Gabriel Sterling, Chief Operations Officer with the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, says the MyVoter Page averaged 19,525 visitors per minute as people checked their voter registration status and polling location. However, one thing to watch as the clock ticks down to 7:00 PM is the 5:00 PM deadline. 5:00 PM is the deadline that a person can cast a provisional ballot if they show up to the wrong precinct or attempt to vote in the wrong county in Georgia.
“If you’re outside of your precinct, you can vote provisionally as long as your vote is within your county,” said Stephanie Ali of the New Georgia Project. “We are already getting reports of people being offered provisional ballots early in the day for being outside of a precinct, which is not the same thing and won’t count. Or people being told ‘oh, if you come back after 5pm you can do a provisional even if you’re out of county,’ again that vote won’t count. These are poll workers who are confused or misinformed about the new laws. And this is going to result in people’s votes not being counted.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Justice announced they would send poll watchers to twenty-four jurisdictions across the country as civil rights groups and the federal government have raised alarm over potential voter intimidation at some polling places and ballot boxes. They will also have a presence in Fulton County. The laws they’ll enforce include the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and other statutes. Prosecutors in the same division also enforce criminal statutes that prohibit voter intimidation and efforts to suppress voting based on someone’s race, national origin or religion.
“Federal law prohibits the Secretary of State’s office from doing any kind of systematic voter maintenance 90 days before an election because we do not want to use it as a tool to incorrectly or erroneously purge voters from the rolls,” Nguyen explained. “This measure with the unlimited voter challenges that we’re seeing across the state of Georgia is a workaround.”
The workaround Nguyen is referring to is found in Section 15, Lines 571-576 of Senate Bill 202:
Any elector of a county or municipality may challenge the qualifications of any person applying to register to vote in the county or municipality and may challenge the qualifications of any elector of the county or municipality whose name appears on the list of electors.
Such challenges shall be in writing and shall specify distinctly the grounds of the challenge. There shall not be a limit on the number of persons whose qualifications such elector may challenge.
In the state of Georgia, persons can only vote in their precinct, according to their residential address on Election Day. Conversely, a county resident can vote early at any open precinct inside their county of residence. Coupled with the high stakes nature of this year’s election, Ali says the challenges will only mount heading toward 7:00 PM.
“So we are seeing because of so many changes, because of so much external pressure, and because of the fact that this is a collective effort to make every single step of the way harder for voters who will have difficulty as they go to vote today that they didn’t face in early voting.”