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How Georgia's new election law can impact voters during primaries

Here are the highlights for those planning to submit a ballot.

ATLANTA — Georgia's primary election is teeing up what is expected to be a contentious November election -- but this round is also putting the state's controversial voter law through its first major test.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Election Integrity Act of 2021, known in the legislature as SB 202, into law last March. Now Kemp is campaigning to remain Georgia's top official in what's shaped out to be a crowded and competitive GOP primary.

Kemp, and the law, were heavily criticized after its passing with opponents going as far as calling it voter suppression. The governor and other state Republicans claimed it would strengthen confidence in elections, following the tumult of 2020.

Georgia's primary election is May 24, with the potential for the state to swing the U.S. Senate red under a Democratic president. As Georgia voters have the power to impact lawmaking at the national level, here's what people should know about the state's voter law before heading to the polls.

Absentee ballots

Georgia's Election Integrity Act of 2021 tightens limits on absentee voting.

It requires an ID number, such as on a driver's license, to apply for an absentee ballot. Voters must also provide a copy of a Georgia ID as the law now reduces the emphasis on signatures on absentee ballots.

It also cuts off absentee ballot applications 11 days before an election. For the sake of the 2022 primary elections, voters have until May 13 to request an absentee ballot. 

The law also limits the number of absentee ballot drop boxes that can be placed around a county. To find an absentee ballot drop box near you, find your county using the Georgia Secretary of State's Office website.

RELATED: How to vote by absentee ballot in Georgia

Voting impacts

Elections have an early voting period with Election Day landing on a Tuesday. Under Georgia's voter law, an election must require two Saturday voting days and makes two Sunday voting days optional. Sunday voting days are up to the discretion of the election registrars. 

Voting can only take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays and the two required Saturdays. Registrars do have the power to extend voting hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

RELATED: VERIFY: No, Georgia voters' emails and phone numbers are not shared by the state

Georgia's law also makes it illegal to hand out food or water to people as they vote and those who violate this provision can face a misdemeanor.

The law is in addition to a federal statute that prevents the exchange of goods, services or money for votes. Georgia's law closes a loophole often used by get-out-the-vote volunteers who would sidestep the federal rule by offering food or drinks to everyone present regardless if they planned to vote or not.

Though the law discourages volunteers or voting advocates to distribute food or drinks within 25 feet of any voter in line, Georgia's law does allow poll workers to set up unattended self-service water stations. 

RELATED: New ad on Georgia election law confuses voters

After voting

Election officials can start scanning verified ballots on the third Monday before Election Day, according to the voter law. This means election workers can begin opening and scanning absentee ballots 15 days before Election Day -- but results cannot be tabulated until polls close. 

Before the Election Integrity Act of 2021, absentee ballots couldn't be processed until Election Day. The change is meant to help reduce the number of ballots left after Election Day. This is meant to help election officials meet another deadline under Georgia law: certifying results by the Monday after Election Day -- four days sooner than previously allowed.

RELATED: Georgia's top elections official reports record turnout on first day of early primary voting

After ballots have been submitted, and a runoff election is needed, Georgia will now follow a shortened timeline under the state's new law. 

Instead of nine weeks, voters will have four weeks to cast a ballot in a runoff election. This adjusted time period means voters have less time to request mail-in ballots and to vote by mail. Early voting, by law, must start "as soon as possible" but no later than the second Monday before the election. Under a runoff election timeline, voters could have as little as five weekdays to vote before runoff Election Day.

RELATED: How new Georgia political maps could affect who represents you

The Associated Press reports, under Georgia's adjusted timeline, no new voters can be registered in the period before a runoff. 

To note, runoff elections must be held on the 28th day after a general or special primary election.

Those planning to vote can check out 11Alive's voter guide. To read more about the changes in Georgia's voting law, click here.

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