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Georgia’s voting law isn’t as bad as it seems, but it’s nowhere as good as Utah’s

SHARE Georgia’s voting law isn’t as bad as it seems, but it’s nowhere as good as Utah’s
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference at the State Capitol on Saturday, April 3, 2021, in Atlanta, about Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over the league’s objection to a new Georgia voting law.

Brynn Anderson, Associated Press

Utah knows a thing or two about being punished for the acts of its elected officials. About four years ago, the Outdoor Retailers show, which brought tens of thousands of people annually to Salt Lake City, went elsewhere because of the state’s attitude toward public lands.

That cost about $45 million in direct spending each year. That’s not much, especially compared with what Delta, Coca-Cola and Major League Baseball could do in Georgia … or what Delta could do to Utah, if it ever decided to.

But at least no one has a gripe when it comes to Utah’s voting laws, for good reason.

Boycotts and threats do not generally allow for nuance. So it is with Georgia’s new law governing elections in that state.

The most egregious part of that law is that it removes Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from the state elections board that can investigate county boards and suspend election superintendents it doesn’t like. 

Raffensperger, if you recall, is the Republican who stood up to pressure from President Donald Trump when Trump tried to change his close loss to Joe Biden in the state. Now, the board will be chaired by someone selected by the state’s General Assembly, controlled by Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

Given Georgia’s role in the narrative of the falsehood that the election was rigged, that ought to concern all Americans. But Raffensperger supports this law, as he wrote recently for National Review.

Beyond that, it’s incorrect to say the law doesn’t tighten some of the reins on voting. It limits drop boxes available during early voting and puts them indoors. It requires people who vote by mail to include identification, and it discourages voting by mail as a concept. You can’t get a ballot that way unless you ask for it. 

But Georgia’s ID requirements are not the strictest in the nation. They’re about the same as what is required in Delaware, President Biden’s home state. And while much has been made of a provision that keeps people from giving water to those in line to vote, this applies only to third parties and is meant to keep political groups from trying to sway voters. You could give water to a poll manager to distribute.

And there are some provisions that improve voting access and could reduce long lines.

No, it’s not as bad as many, including President Biden, say it is. He said the law would end voting at 5 p.m., so working people couldn’t vote after their shifts end. The Washington Post gave him “four pinocchios” for that one in a fact-checking column.

But Georgia’s law also is nowhere near as good as how things are run in Utah, a place that’s “on the forefront and cutting edge of voters laws,” as state Director of Elections Justin Lee told me this week.

Lee emphasized that Utah provides no “big barriers” to voting and uses “every method you could want” to make things easier, whether you live in the city or in a rural area.

You can register here on Election Day, if you’d like. You must show identification the first time you vote by mail, but after that, all you need is a signature, which will be verified against other official signatures you have provided. And the types of ID Utah allows are vast and open-ended. A utility bill or a copy of a check from the government will do.

Every voter in Utah gets a ballot in the mail, automatically.

If you want to vote in person, you can do so in any precinct in your county. Georgia requires you to stick to your precinct, although if you show up after 5, you can cast a provisional ballot.

In Utah, every county clerk is independently elected, so no party can exert control over an election board, such as what Georgia has.

And Utah tends to have a lot of dropboxes, outdoors — although that is up to each county to decide.

Despite all this, the nonpartisan Brennan Center listed Utah among 47 states that have attempted to pass laws restricting voter access in recent months. The reason? Lawmakers passed HB12, which makes it easier to remove dead people from the list of eligible voters.

Perception and reality don’t always mix. HB12 hardly seems like a threat to the living.

Which brings us back to angry corporate statements and boycotts. 

Utah’s progressive voting laws were spurred, in general, by a desire to increase dismal voter turnout. Perhaps the debate here would be different if the two major parties were evenly divided, each searching for an advantage. As the razor-thin margin in the state’s 4th Congressional District proved, things can get nasty even in the Beehive State when political philosophies are on the line.

But if the state ever does become more politically competitive, at least it has a good framework to keep voting accessible. That ought to keep angry corporations and boycotts at bay for a while.