ATLANTA - Georgia’s Secretary of State has a disdain for disinformation; and his need to correct it following the 2020 election drew both the national spotlight and the ire of former president Trump.
Now, Brad Raffensperger says it’s time to address another misleading narrative: how Georgia’s new voting law will overhaul elections in the Peach State. It’s particularly relevant in the leadup to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, recently relocated from Atlanta to Denver in the wake of the Georgia controversy.
“It was an example of people not checking out and actually reading the bill,” Raffensperger told NBCLX, calling baseball’s all-star decision an overreaction to exaggerated criticisms. “If [MLB] would have actually read the bill or called me, I would have been more than happy to sit down with them and talk to them...and explain why we did what we did. It's a very solid piece of measured legislation.”
Raffensperger, who acknowledges some frustrations with parts of SB 202, such as provisions that shift power from him and other election administrators to more partisan officials, says the bill does more overall good than harm.
He points to provisions that replace signature matching on mail ballots with voter identification checks, which polls show have strong support nationally and in Georgia, as well as provisions that make some of 2020’s pandemic-related conveniences permanent, such as ballot dropboxes.
Raffensperger cites Georgia’s “no excuse” absentee voting, automatic voter registration, and at least 17 days of early voting as examples of why he says his state’s elections are more accessible than those of many “blue” states.
“I'd like to let everyone know that it's never been easier to vote in Georgia,” he said.
The United States Department of Justice, which filed a lawsuit challenging the Georgia law in June, has a different assessment of SB 202. The agency says the way the law is written will specifically – and intentionally – expand some voting conveniences in rural, conservative-leaning counties while reducing many in urban, liberal-leaning counties.
That includes indexing the number of ballot dropboxes to population, which will reduce the number in metro Atlanta by 75%, and prohibiting the delivery of food or water to voters waiting in long lines, which are more prevalent in densely packed, minority neighborhoods.
The DOJ’s lawsuit comes three months after a cluster of corporations condemned the legislation.
Major League Baseball was among those that shifted business in response to the law, moving its Midsummer Classic from Georgia’s suburban Cobb County to Colorado, which – perhaps not coincidentally – has some of the most progressive voting laws in the country.
NBCLX is broadcasting an All-Star political special Monday night from Denver at 7pm ET - find out how you can watch here.
“When someone like Major League Baseball moves out the All-Star Game,” Raffensperger said, “it really hurts small business America and small business Georgians.”
A number of Democrats agree.
“Georgia passed a law; Cobb County paid for it,” said Jerica Richardson, one of three Democratic commissioners who now control the majority of the board in Cobb County, where the Braves’ Truist Park is located.
“That bill is unfortunate...but I certainly disagree with [MLB’s decision],” she said. “We saw that game as an opportunity.”
Richardson said the all-star game’s economic impact would be missed, especially after losing so much revenue due to pandemic shutdowns in 2020. But she also expressed disappointment in not being able to showcase Cobb County to the world, including its amenities, arts, and increasingly diverse politics.
After nearly 40 years of Republican domination in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, Democrats have recently clawed back power in Cobb County. Joe Biden won the county by 14 points in November.
“There was a real opportunity for more dialog,” said Richardson, lamenting the lack of MLB engagement with Georgia Democrats. “There was a real opportunity there to make that happen…[instead], it hardened everyone's positions...it just further sowed seeds of division.”
Georgia lawmakers haven’t budged in the three months since MLB’s announcement, and other states, including Florida and Texas, have passed or advanced similar elections laws.
“What's the goal [of a boycott]? If you can’t articulate what that is, then it's chaos. And it may do more harm than good,” Richardson added.
It’s also possible - as Nate Cohn from the New York Times wrote - that SB 202 could backfire on Republicans. He supports Raffensperger’s stance that new rules about how people can vote – rather than who can vote – are unlikely to change turnout much. In fact, they could motivate Democrats to come out to the polls.
FACT-CHECKING GEORGIA CLAIMS
Georgia lawmakers will allow counties to keep some secure dropboxes, which had never been used prior to the 2020 pandemic.
But even though Georgia reported no major problems with the use of dropboxes, the state will significantly limit how many of the boxes counties can use, and restrict where and when they can be accessed. That will drastically reduce utilization of dropboxes in Georgia’s most-populated counties, which typically favor Democrats. The bill also reduces the number of days voters are allowed to request mail ballots.
Georgia will replace its controversial signature match verification on absentee ballots with a controversial voter ID match, but the change appears broadly popular according to numerous polls.
SB 202 also adds a slew of other restrictions to voting laws that didn’t seem to cause any significant problems in 2020, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, including the tossing of provisional ballots for some voters who accidentally go to the wrong precinct on election day - a mistake that happens more in urban communities where polling places can change from election to election.
And Georgia’s law will also allow more partisan poll watchers at each precinct, as well as allowing a single person to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited numbers of voters. Georgia lawmakers and county commissioners will now be able to more-easily remove election officials and replace them with handpicked appointments.
It will be easier to cast a ballot in much of Georgia going forward than it was in 2018, with more places to drop off a mail ballot, more early voting days, and also likely fewer mail ballots rejected due to signature mismatches.
But it won’t be as easy for most Georgia voters to cast a ballot in 2022 as it was in 2020. The state banned the unsolicited mailing out of absentee ballots, and the reduction in dropboxes will also make it a little less convenient for a majority of the state’s voters.
Early voting will now be required on a second Saturday before each election, bringing the minimum number of early vote days up to 17. But most urban areas were already providing the maximum 19 days for early voting - a far cry from the 45 days Georgia used to allow prior to 2012.
Raffensberger correctly points out Georgia has easier access to both early voting and mail voting than many Democratically-led states, but some of 2020’s pandemic-related conveniences will be reeled back in.
SB 202 reduces the number of days voters can request an absentee ballot, from 180 to 78. But it does not do anything to ban absentee ballots.
Raffensperger points out that Georgia has offered “no excuse” absentee voting since 2005, even though many Democratically controlled states still do not.
Many businesses around the Braves’ Truist Park will miss the three extra days of game traffic.
“People have had this event circled like this is our big coming-out party” after 2020 was lost to the pandemic, says Matt Crow, manager of ASW Distillery, located in the shadow of the stadium.
But economists say the oft repeated – but seldom sourced – economic impact figure is farcical.
“The $100 million claims are not grounded in reality whatsoever,” said J.C. Bradbury, professor of economics at Kennesaw St. University. “It's much closer to $0 than it is $100 million (because) it's actually quite a small event. Most of the people who are coming...are season ticket holders or live in Atlanta.”
Bradbury released an academic study in March that revealed a negligible impact on Cobb Co. since the Braves relocated there four years ago.
“I looked at sales tax revenue that was coming to the county (and) what property values were doing both around the stadium and in the entire county,” Bradbury continued. “What I found was, maybe you could find some very small increases, but they were very, very small. And so it certainly wasn't enough to cover the public subsidies that were used to fund the stadium.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the $100 million claims, which even found their way into a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, originally came from the Braves and MLB themselves, not any independent analysis.
Neither the team, the league, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, nor Georgia House Speaker David Ralston agreed to interview for this story.
Noah Pransky is NBCLX’s National Political Editor. He covers Washington and state politics for NBCLX, and his investigative work has been honored with national Murrow, Polk, duPont, and Cronkite awards. You can contact him confidentially at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.