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Georgia’s Proposed Voting Restrictions Will Harm Black Voters Most

State legislators are pushing regressive bills to end no-excuse mail voting for younger voters and to eliminate early in-person voting on Sundays.

Published: March 6, 2021
People wait in line to vote early at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta

In Novem­ber 2020, Pres­id­ent Joe Biden won the state of Geor­gia by a narrow margin, edging out Donald Trump by fewer than 13,000 votes. While the margin was small, it was the first time a Demo­cratic pres­id­en­tial candid­ate had won the state since Bill Clin­ton did in 1992. Two months later, the two Demo­cratic candid­ates for U.S. senator both won their elec­tions in the Peach State, the first time a Demo­cratic senator had been elec­ted since 1996. foot­note1_27x2kaz 1 Zell Miller, a Demo­crat, was appoin­ted to finish the late Paul Cover­dell’s term in 2000, but Miller was never elec­ted to the Senate.

We have seen a rush of anti-voter bills intro­duced in the wake of the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion all around the coun­try. Geor­gia Repub­lic­ans have intro­duced regress­ive legis­la­tion that would elim­in­ate auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion in the state (a policy that has boos­ted regis­tra­tions enorm­ously) and are seek­ing to make voting by mail far more diffi­cult. Given the dynam­ics of the 2020 elec­tion, the restric­tions to voting by mail seem espe­cially likely to hurt Black voters, who used mail ballots at far higher rates last year than ever before.

As we wrote last year, there was little evid­ence before 2020 that Demo­cratic-lean­ing constitu­en­cies used vote-by-mail at higher rates than other voters. These patterns contin­ued through Geor­gi­a’s June 2020 primary, when 54 percent of white voters cast a ballot by mail, compared with just 44 percent of Black voters. foot­note2_h1by48s 2 Younger and nonwhite voters – voters less likely to support Repub­lican candid­ates, in other words – have also histor­ic­ally had higher mail ballot rejec­tion rates.

This all changed in the 2020 general elec­tion.

Racial Compos­i­tion of Vote-by-Mail Elect­or­ate in Geor­gia foot­note3_b54nelb 3 All our figures are calcu­lated by merging the voter history files made publicly avail­able with a snap­shot of the registered voter file from Novem­ber 2, 2020.

Follow­ing the intense politi­ciz­a­tion of mail voting by then-Pres­id­ent Trump, the partisan compos­i­tion of the vote-by-mail elect­or­ate shif­ted drastic­ally. Although vote-by-mail usage exploded for all racial groups, it increased less for white voters than for others. Although white voters still made up a major­ity of mail voters, their share of the vote-by-mail elect­or­ate dropped from 67 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2020; the Black share, mean­while, surged from 23 percent to 31 percent. As the figure below shows, foot­note4_w4d4jip 4 Approx­im­ately 0.3 percent ballots were cast elec­tron­ic­ally by unformed and over­seas voters; we exclude them to make the figure easier to read. Their exclu­sion does not alter our conclu­sions.  nearly 30 percent of Black voters cast their ballot by mail in 2020, but just 24 percent of white voters did so.

The Racial Compos­i­tion Is Differ­ent for Older Voters

There are currently multiple live bills in the Geor­gia Legis­lature that would end no-excuse mail voting. These bills, however, include carve outs for older voters. Senate Bill 241 — which advanced out of the Senate Ethics Commit­tee this week — includes being 65 or older as a valid excuse; Senate Bill 71, which has also seen move­ment in the Senate this week, would make being 75 or older a valid excuse.

In other words, under these propos­als, older voters — who accord­ing to CNN exit polls suppor­ted Repub­lic­ans at higher rates in 2020 — would continue to have unres­tric­ted access to vote-by-mail. As the figure below shows, fewer than half of vote-by-mail parti­cipants under 65 years old were white, but 60 percent of the mail voters between 65 and 74, and 70 percent of the mail voters 75 and older were white. Because older Geor­gi­ans are whiter than younger Geor­gi­ans, the legis­la­tion restrict­ing mail voting for younger voters dispro­por­tion­ately bene­fits white voters.

Ending Sunday Voting Further Harms Black Voters

Curtail­ing mail voting isn’t the only regress­ive change being considered by Geor­gia Repub­lic­ans. House Bill 531 — which passed in the Geor­gia House on Monday — contains many restrict­ive provi­sions, such as shrink­ing the absentee ballot applic­a­tion window and limit­ing the hours during which mail ballot drop boxes can be open. It also elim­in­ates early in-person voting on Sundays in the weeks lead­ing up to an elec­tion.

Sundays have histor­ic­ally been import­ant turnout days for Black Amer­ic­ans, as Black churches organ­ize “Souls to the Polls” drives. To under­stand the racial implic­a­tions of this proposed change, we looked at who voted early on what days in the 2020 general elec­tion.

Although Sunday was not a partic­u­larly popu­lar day for voting in 2020 (just 2.7 percent of early in-person ballots were cast on a Sunday), there are clear racial divi­sions. Black voters (who make up 30 percent of the registered elect­or­ate) accoun­ted for 36.5 percent of Sunday voters, but just 26.8 percent of early in-person voters on other days. On the other hand, 60 percent of the voters who voted early on other days were white, though that was true of just 47 percent of Sunday voters (53 percent of registered voters in Geor­gia are white). Barring counties from hold­ing early in-person voting on Sundays would dispro­por­tion­ately impact Black Geor­gi­ans.


Around the coun­try, we are seeing legis­lat­ors push to make voting harder. In the case of Geor­gia, these changes will dispro­por­tion­ately hurt Black voters. The state is consid­er­ing restrict­ing mail voting in response to a shift in the racial demo­graph­ics of the voters who use it, but wants to keep mail voting avail­able for older, whiter mail voters. The same is true for early in-person voting: Repub­lic­ans in the Peach State want to end Sunday voting, a day dispro­por­tion­ately popu­lar among Black voters. Voter suppres­sion is always unac­cept­able, and the razor thin polit­ical margins in Geor­gia may mean that suppres­sion efforts like these will change polit­ical outcomes. Rather than impos­ing barri­ers, Geor­gia should be look­ing at ways to improve voter access.

End Notes