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The Box Score on Voting Rights

Here’s how Georgia stacks up against Colorado and New York.

Published: April 8, 2021

Geor­gi­a’s most recent efforts to suppress voting led Major League Base­ball (MLB) to pull its All-Star Game out of the Peach State. Some criti­cized the move, arguing that it is easier to vote in Geor­gia than in Color­ado, the new site of the All-Star Game, or in New York, the home of MLB headquar­ters. The compar­ison to New York is misguided. The compar­ison to Color­ado is down­right absurd.

Color­ado and Geor­gia Are Not in the Same Ball­park

Some pundits have sugges­ted that Color­ado is as bad or worse than Geor­gia when it comes to voting policy. That claim is absurd. Color­ado is widely seen as a leader among states in expand­ing access to demo­cracy. In 2020, the state had the second-highest turnout rate in the coun­try. Despite record polit­ical spend­ing and turnout, Geor­gia only made it to the middle of the pack — 26th among the states. Geor­gia should aspire to be where Color­ado is. Instead, it seems intent on head­ing to where New York once was.

  • There is no real compar­ison between the voter ID require­ments in Geor­gia and Color­ado.
    • Color­ado’s in-person voter ID require­ment allows voters to present a wide range of IDs, includ­ing util­ity and bank state­ments. Geor­gi­a’s law limits voters to a narrow list of photo IDs.
    • Color­ado has a univer­sal vote-by-mail system that auto­mat­ic­ally mails a ballot to every registered voter in advance of the elec­tion. As a result, only 6 percent of Color­ado voters cast a ballot in person, making the in-person voter ID require­ment largely irrel­ev­ant.
    • Not only do far more voters vote in person in Geor­gia, but SB 202 imposes oner­ous new ID require­ments on mail voters as well.
  • It is disin­genu­ous to compare the number of early voting days in Color­ado, where almost all voters vote by mail, and Geor­gia, where only a small segment of voters do.
    • Color­ado provides more than enough early voting for its relat­ively few in-person voters. While Geor­gia is infam­ous for long lines at the polls, Color­ado’s secret­ary of state estim­ates that many early voting centers in her state see less than one person per hour voting on aver­age.
  • Color­ado offers wider voting access in many other ways as well.
    • In Geor­gia, SB 202 caps drop boxes in large counties at one per 100,000 active voters. By contrast, Color­ado offers more than one drop box for every 10,000 voters. Color­ado also makes drop boxes avail­able around the clock, while they are only avail­able during regu­lar voting hours in Geor­gia.
    • Color­ado also offers same-day regis­tra­tion, pre-regis­tra­tion for 16-year-olds, and an innov­at­ive “TXT2­Cure” program that allows voters to fix prob­lems with their ballots via text message, options not avail­able to Geor­gia voters. 

As New York Rallies, Geor­gia Throws the Game

Neither Geor­gia nor New York provides a model for inclus­ive demo­cracy. And there are certainly a number of ways in which Geor­gia is ahead of New York on voting access. For a long time, New York was among the worst states in the coun­try on many voting meas­ures. But Geor­gi­a’s defend­ers certainly aren’t scor­ing any points by boast­ing that they beat New York on imple­ment­ing reforms like early voting — nearly every state did. 

The crit­ical differ­ence is that Geor­gia and New York are headed in oppos­ite direc­tions. Since 2019, New York’s legis­lature has swiftly moved to expand demo­cracy by passing laws that provide for early voting, online voter regis­tra­tion (OVR), and auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR). It has also begun the consti­tu­tional amend­ment process to provide for Elec­tion Day regis­tra­tion and no-excuse mail voting. Geor­gia, on the other hand, is respond­ing to record turnout by making it harder to vote, rolling back the very policies that put it ahead of New York in the first place. 

  • Geor­gia made it a crime to give water or snacks to voters wait­ing in long lines. Contrary to some claims, New York has no such ban. New York does put a one-dollar limit on the food and drink that can be provided to a voter, but when purchased in bulk, bottled water and snacks easily fall below this limit.
  • Geor­gia is restrict­ing access to mail voting while New York is expand­ing it.
    • For years, Geor­gia let every­one vote by mail. But after 2020, in which Black and Demo­cratic voters relied dispro­por­tion­ately on mail voting amid the pandemic, its legis­lature passed SB 202, creat­ing signi­fic­ant barri­ers to that method of cast­ing a ballot:
      • The bill requires voters to include a driver’s license or state ID number on their mail ballot applic­a­tion. If they don’t have one, they must attach a photo­copy of another form of ID to their applic­a­tion.
      • The bill requires voters to go through this process all over again when they return their mail ballot.
      • The bill severely limits the avail­ab­il­ity of drop boxes for return­ing mail ballots, limit­ing counties to the lesser of one drop box per 100,000 active registered voters or one drop box per early voting site.
    • New York is behind Geor­gia on absentee voting — 2020 was the first year in which New York­ers didn’t need an “excuse” to vote by mail, and that was only because the legis­lature deemed the coronavirus pandemic an accept­able excuse. The limit­a­tion on mail voting is writ­ten into New York’s consti­tu­tion, which takes years to change. Fortu­nately, the state is well on its way to passing a consti­tu­tional amend­ment to elim­in­ate the excuse require­ment for absentee voting. The legis­lature passed the proposed amend­ment once and is poised to pass it a second time, which will send it to the voters for approval in Novem­ber 2021.
    • Although New York still has work to do to make mail voting avail­able to every­one on a perman­ent basis, it is already doing better than Geor­gia on the specif­ics in SB 202:
      • New York does not impose an ID require­ment for voters to apply for an absentee ballot or to cast one.
      • New York has no popu­la­tion limit­a­tion on drop boxes. Although it currently only provides drop boxes at board of elec­tions offices and polling places, the state senate has passed a bill that would remove that limit­a­tion as well.
  • Geor­gia may offer more days of early voting than New York, but New York alloc­ates more week­end and even­ing hours.
    • Geor­gi­a’s SB 202 takes some discre­tion away from counties as to the hours in which they can make early voting avail­able. Though it raises the floor for week­end voting days and requires at least 17 days of early voting, it also limits how much counties can expand early voting: no county can offer voting before 7 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on any day.
    • New York finally intro­duced early voting in 2019 and offers only nine days of early voting. Still, New York requires more days of week­end voting than Geor­gia, includ­ing two Sundays. New York also mandates that polls stay open until 8 p.m. on at least two week­days during early voting and that they remain open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Elec­tion Day.
  • Geor­gia disen­fran­chises many voters in the community with past crim­inal convic­tions. New York does not.
    • As a result of an exec­ut­ive order from the governor, New York restores voting rights to every­one upon release from prison — and the legis­lature is on the verge of codi­fy­ing that policy. Geor­gia, on the other hand, disen­fran­chises more than 200,000 people who have served out their sentences and are now living in the community. 

New York Still Has a Way to Go If It Wants to Take the Pennant

New York still has plenty of work to do to improve its elec­tions. The dramatic progress state lawmakers have made on voting policy in the last few years was neces­sary just to bring New York’s elec­tions into the 21st century.

  • The state still needs to complete the consti­tu­tional amend­ment process to provide for no-excuse absentee voting and same-day regis­tra­tion. Both of these reforms will require imple­ment­ing legis­la­tion as well.
  • Though it appears poised to do so, the legis­lature has yet to codify the auto­matic restor­a­tion of voting rights to people upon release from prison. The state’s felony disen­fran­chise­ment policy is a remnant of Jim Crow in the North.
  • A number of the new policies the state has passed, includ­ing AVR and an OVR system that is access­ible to those without DMV records, have yet to take effect. Imple­ment­a­tion of OVR has been delayed well beyond the stat­utory dead­line because of the state’s fail­ure to provide adequate fund­ing to its board of elec­tions.
  • Although New York finally began provid­ing early voting in 2019, it struggled with imple­ment­a­tion, with long lines form­ing at New York City polling places in 2020.
  • New York’s struggles aren’t just a matter of retro­grade policy. The state also suffers from fail­ures of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion. In order to build a truly inclus­ive demo­cracy, New York will need to over­come a long history of patron­age and poor fund­ing, among other issues.