Are Colorado’s voting laws really more restrictive than Georgia’s?

April 7, 2021
5 mins read
Voters spent six hours in line Friday to reach this entrance to the College Park library precinct. People said the room with the voting machines is small and social distancing is challenging. People with absentee ballots can avoid the wait by using the drop box. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Colorado sports fans will get an unexpected treat at the expense of Atlanta Braves fans this summer when Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game comes to Coors Field on July 13, the league officially announced on Tuesday.

“This all moved very quickly,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said in a press conference Tuesday. “What usually takes months or even years to happen, happened in just a matter of days. But we are absolutely honored and thrilled.”

The last-minute relocation comes days after MLB announced that it would pull the event from its scheduled venue, the Atlanta Braves’ home stadium in Cobb County over objections to a wave of new voting restrictions enacted by state lawmakers in the wake of President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in Georgia in the 2020 election.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” league commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement announcing the move. “In 2020 … we proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

The decision was quickly denounced by Republicans in Georgia and beyond, and following the first reports of the All-Star Game’s relocation to Denver, conservatives seized upon a series of false or misleading claims about Colorado voting laws in an attempt to portray MLB’s decision as hypocritical. In one widely shared tweet, Fox News pundit Lisa Boothe accused the league of relocating the event to “a state that has more restrictive elections” than Georgia.

Both Republican and Democratic elections officials in Colorado routinely praise its election system as a “gold standard” for voting across the country, and its turnout rate of 76.4% was second-best among states in 2020, according to the U.S. Elections Project. That’s significantly higher than Georgia’s turnout rate of 67.7%.

“I’m thrilled with the decision to move the MLB All-Star Game to Coors Field in Denver,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said in a statement Tuesday. “The truth is Colorado’s election model works. We mail ballots to all voters, have early voting, and same day voter registration. Voters can participate easily in our elections, which are also the most secure in the nation.”

Colorado, which adopted universal mail-in voting in 2013, has such a profoundly different voting system than Georgia that direct comparisons between the states’ two sets of election laws can be difficult. But a review of the key provisions in Georgia’s new elections law, Senate Bill 202, shows clearly that virtually none of its controversial restrictions are currently the law in Colorado.

Colorado automatically sends a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the state. Georgia just made it illegal for elections officials even to send applications for mail-in ballots to voters.

Absentee or mail-in voting surged in Georgia in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, encouraged by state and local elections officials who mailed blank applications for absentee ballots to every voter in the state for its June primary election, and to every voter in some of its most populous counties during the general election.

That will now be illegal under Georgia’s new law, which allows absentee ballot applications to be mailed only upon request by an individual voter — a far more restrictive system than exists in Colorado, where every active registered voter in the state automatically receives a ballot in the mail roughly a month prior to each primary and general election.

Colorado doesn’t require voter ID for mail-in ballots. Georgia just passed such a requirement.

Republicans have seized upon the fact that Colorado requires ID for voters who vote in person, equating it with Georgia’s voter ID law, which was enacted in 2005. But the vast majority of Coloradans don’t need to show an ID in order to vote; last year, more than 94% of Colorado voters cast their ballots by returning them through the mail or in drop boxes, according to election-night data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. Colorado does require ID in order to register to vote, but the state accepts a wider range of forms of identification, including non-photo IDs like pay stubs and utility bills, than Georgia does.

Among the most controversial changes made by Georgia’s new election law is to require voter ID for absentee ballots — a requirement that doesn’t exist in Colorado, which uses signature verification to validate mail-in ballots.

Colorado offers hundreds of ballot drop boxes. Georgia just capped its statewide total at 23.

Amid uncertainty over the handling of mail-in ballots by the U.S. Postal Service in 2020, Griswold worked with elections officials in Colorado’s 64 counties to expand the number of ballot drop boxes statewide from 247 to 368. That’s roughly a proportion of one drop box for every 10,000 registered Colorado voters.

That’s 10 times more drop-box availability than the maximum number allowed by Georgia’s new law, which dictates that county officials “may only establish additional drop boxes totaling the lesser of either one drop box for every 100,000 active registered voters in the county or the number of advance voting locations in the county.”

Colorado allows mobile voting centers. Georgia just banned them.

For Coloradans who choose to vote in person, the state allows mobile voting centers like the “Haul-N-Votes” unit operated by local elections officials in Denver. The mobile polling place made six stops at various locations throughout the city between Oct. 19 and Nov. 3, 2020.

Officials in Georgia’s Fulton County launched a similar program last year, with more than 11,200 voters opting to vote at one of two mobile voting centers operated by the county, according to the New York Times. But Georgia’s new law bans such facilities, stating that “buses and other readily movable facilities shall only be used (as polling places) in emergencies declared by the Governor.”

Coloradans can vote at any polling place in their county. Georgia has a precinct-based system that just got even more restrictive.

Colorado counties are required to operate a certain number of voter service and polling centers, based on their population size. All such centers allow voters to register to vote, vote in person, drop off their ballots or obtain a replacement ballot, and are open to all registered or prospective voters in their county.

Georgia, meanwhile, operates on a strict precinct-based voting system, and voters who show up to the wrong polling place may be either turned away or directed to cast a provisional ballot. Georgia’s new law places even more limits on the circumstances in which provisional ballots may be counted.

Colorado doesn’t criminalize offering food and water to voters waiting in line. Georgia now does.

Contrary to false claims being spread on social media by Republican operatives, Colorado does not criminalize the practice of campaigns or other groups handing out food and water to voters standing in line outside in-person voting locations. Colorado only prohibits so-called “comfort teams” from doing so while wearing campaign apparel within 100 feet of a polling place.

That’s a far cry from one of the most widely criticized provisions in Georgia’s new law, which makes it a misdemeanor for any person or group to offer “food and drink … within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.” Hours-long waits to vote have become a common occurrence in Georgia, particularly in the Atlanta metro area, which critics say disproportionately burdens low-income voters and voters of color.

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