Election board: What SB 202 means for Chatham County

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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Chatham County Board of Elections member Antwan Lang held a press conference Wednesday morning to share key election changes as a result of SB 202.

Lang began by announcing several new polling locations. Temple Mickve Israel will serve as the voting location for Precinct 302. Christ Memorial Baptist Church will now serve as the voting location for Precinct 608. First Baptist Church of Pooler is the new voting location for Precinct 706. West Chatham Baptist Church is now the voting location for Precinct 712.

Lang says the board is still searching for alternate voting locations and a polling place in the Little Neck Road area.

The process of counting votes was the first topic of conversation when it came to discussing Georgia’s new voting law.

“Among complaints about the 2020 election is how long it took for counties to release their final vote totals, how others missed batches of ballots and general confusion about how the process is not over on election night,” said Lang.

Under the law, local elections boards will now be allowed to start processing, not tabulating ballots two weeks before the election.

Lang says there is an extra incentive to do so because counties will now be required to count all the ballots as soon as polls close and finish by 5 p.m. the next day. Failure to do so can make the board subject to investigation.

“That rule means we will count all the ballots we have at that moment,” said Lang.

Chatham County is unique in that its Board of Elections and Board of Registrars function as two separate entities. Lang says when the BOE counts all of its ballots that night, employees can leave. They no longer have to wait for the Board of Registrars to finish counting their early voting ballots.

This means they will not have to count all night and all day.

“When you do that, you can have mistakes because you have fatigue,” said Lang. “You have employees getting fatigued, you have shifts that now have to be made over and over again for employees, so that is a good thing.”

Local officials will now be required to post the total number of ballots cast by 10 p.m. on election night. This includes ballots cast on Election Day, those cast during early voting and absentee, and provisional ballots.

“Voters can be assured that by election night, they will have some form of idea of the outcome of the election,” said Lang.

He says the BOE’s final vote tabulation will have to be completed by 5 p.m. the day after the election. Because of that change, state officials will now have six days to certify election results rather than 10.

Watch Wednesday’s full press conference below.

Lang says even though he identifies as a Democrat, the information surrounding the Republican-backed election law is fact-based, not political.

“I want citizens to know what laws are in place,” said Lang.

One of the criticisms of SB 202 centers around how it makes seemingly harmless acts a criminal offense, including passing out snacks and water to voters, unless it’s by BOE employee.

“We have citizens who have health issues,” said Lang. “And I don’t think that them being in line for four hours without having a snack to help them is, number one, humane and, number two, something that I can in good conscious support.”

It also creates a new misdemeanor for voters if the voter allows someone other than those authorized under state/federal law to see them making their ballot at home.

One can also be charged with a misdemeanor if they photograph their own absentee ballot or someone else’s.

SB 202 also gives more state election officials power over county election boards. The law states a county election board could be taken over and replaced with one individual if the state doesn’t approve of their performance.

Lang says the law gets murky for Chatham County because the election board is the only one in the state that is elected.

“Ultimately, in normal proceedings, in order to get rid of an elected board before their term is up, you would have to place that on a referendum for citizens to vote on, whether they want to get rid of that entity or not,” said Lang.

Lang says he’ll be asking for further clarification from the state’s attorney general.

He says the law also prohibits counties from using their own budget to pay for their defense in takeover proceedings.

“I don’t understand how we are going to be able to do that without using our funds,” he said.

Lang also highlighted that the bill bars county election boards from accepting grant money to buy new equipment, pay poll workers and pay for new polling locations.

SB 202 also eliminates nearly 300 hours of early voting because drop boxes are no longer available after hours or four days after early voting ends.

It also shortens the ballot request deadline to 11 days before the election — a full five days earlier than the previous law.

“It’s not about whether the law is right or wrong at this point,” said Lang. “It is about making sure citizens understand that the law is the law, and we have to educate citizens on the new guidelines that they have to follow.”

Lang says he plans to hold more press conferences and information sessions to educate Chatham County voters on how the law impacts them.

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