While voter turnout remained strong, absentee voting in Georgia dropped off drastically in this year’s midterm election, the first major test of an expansive 2021 voting law that added restrictions for casting ballots by mail.
Data released by the Georgia secretary of state showed that mail voting in the state’s November general election plunged by 81 percent from the level of the 2020 contest. While a drop was expected after the height of the pandemic, Georgia had a far greater decrease than any other state with competitive statewide races, according to a New York Times analysis.
Turnout data suggests that a large majority of people who voted by mail in 2020 found another way to cast their ballots this year — turning to in-person voting, either early or on Election Day. Turnout in the state was 56 percent of all active voters, shy of the 2018 high-water mark for a midterm election.
The numbers are the first sign of how the 2021 law may have affected the election in Georgia, which has recently established itself as a battleground state. The law was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and backed by G.O.P. state lawmakers who said that the changes would make it “easier to vote, harder to cheat.” It significantly limited drop boxes, added voter identification requirements and prevented election officials from proactively mailing out absentee ballot applications.
But civil rights groups, voting rights advocates and Democrats noted that there was no evidence of widespread fraud in elections. They viewed the law, known as S.B. 202, as an attempt to suppress Democratic-leaning voters, especially people of color, who had just helped flip Georgia blue in a presidential election for the first time in decades.
President Biden called the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Major League Baseball moved its All-Star game out of suburban Atlanta in protest.
This year, after a mostly smooth and high-turnout general election under the new rules, both sides saw validation in their arguments. Republicans pointed to the strong overall turnout as evidence that the law had not suppressed votes. Democrats and civil rights groups argued that their sprawling voter education and mobilization efforts had helped people overcome the new hurdles.