What Do Georgia's New Rules for Absentee Voting in the Runoff Races Mean?

Georgia's State Election Board has extended two emergency rules for absentee voting ahead of the January runoff elections.

In a Monday meeting, the five members of the board, which is chaired by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, voted to continue the use of secure absentee ballot drop boxes and to require counties to process absentee ballots a week before the day of the two elections.

Security monitored drop boxes will continue to be used through the runoffs. The rule was approved this summer but was set to expire in December.

The second rule will require counties to start processing absentee ballots a week and a day before January 5. Previously, counties were allowed to voluntarily begin handling these ballots two weeks before Election Day, but now counties must scanning absentee ballots at least eight days in advance.

"The number of absentee ballot requests that we're seeing for the runoff is large as well, so if we want results at any time quickly, I think we're going to need to do this," General Counsel Ryan Germany told Georgia Public Broadcasting. "The last week before the election, it becomes mandatory to do processing and scanning."

Georgia law does not allow tabulation before polls close. As a result of this rule, ballots will be scanned, not tabulated, early.

While early scanning will not begin the counting process, it will speed up tabulation once the polls close, which will in turn allow for quicker mail-in ballot tallies and final results.

Voters should notice no difference as a result of these emergency rules, as they were in place for Georgia's June primaries.

A third rule, about residency for new voter registrations, that was brought forward to the board was scrapped from discussion. Raffensperger and others had previously raised concerns that people may move to Georgia solely to vote in the January runoffs, which will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate.

On Monday, the secretary of state said his office would issue information to counties as an official election bulletin rather than implement an additional rule.

Georgia Elections
Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots on November 16 as part of the Georgia recount in the presidential election. On Monday, the State Elections Board voted to extend two emergency rules for the January 5 Senate runoff races. Megan Varner/Stringer

Georgia and its elections have become the subject of much media attention after the historically Republican state flipped blue in the presidential election and the announcement of its January runoffs.

As part of an audit, a statewide recount was completed by hand last week and certified by both Raffensperger and Governor Brian Kemp. However, because President-elect Joe Biden's margin of victory is under 0.5 percent, the Trump campaign has again requested a recount of the ballots.

Two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, were unable to win more than 50 percent of the votes in their races, which is required by Georgia law. The two therefore had to go to January runoffs against their Democratic challengers, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

If Warnock and Ossoff beat their GOP opponents, the Senate will be locked 50-50 between the two parties. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will cast any tie-breaking votes, ensuring Democratic control of the chamber.