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Stacey Abrams’s pitch that the new Georgia law ‘eliminates hours of voting’

Stacey Abrams. (Brynn Anderson/AP)

“It restricts the hours of operation because it now, under the guise of setting a standardized timeline, it makes it optional for counties that may not want to see expanded access to the right to vote. They can now limit their hours. Instead of those hours being from 7 to 7, they’re now from 9 to 5, which may have an effect on voters who cannot vote during business hours, during early voting.”

— Stacey Abrams, former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, at a Senate hearing April 20

“Another example is the falsity that this expands hours for voting. Yes, it codifies that you can vote between 9 to 5 as business hours, but for 78 percent of Georgians, prior to this bill the hours for voting during early voting was 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. So this actually eliminates hours of voting and mandates only a shortened period of time.”

— Abrams, during the same hearing

The first set of comments, addressed to Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), was contained in a clip from a Senate hearing that went viral on Twitter. Her remarks caught our attention because they seemed similar to remarks made by President Biden about a new Georgia election law that had earned him Four Pinocchios.

In fact, when our fact check was cited during the hearing by a Republican senator, Abrams suggested that the Fact Checker misunderstood the situation. That’s when she made the second set of comments above. That really caught our attention.

We ended up having an extended back-and-forth with Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Abrams, over the matter. Abrams’s language is more carefully phrased than what Biden said, but we still conclude it is misleading.

The Facts

To recap, Biden had said the new law would “end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work.” That’s simply false.

On Election Day in Georgia, polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and if you are in line by 7 p.m., you are allowed to cast your ballot. The law did make some changes to early voting. But in our previous fact check, we quoted experts who had studied the law and concluded that the net effect of the new early-voting rules was to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them. For instance, the law includes an additional mandatory Saturday for voting.

“You can criticize the bill for many things, but I don’t think you can criticize it for reducing the hours you can vote,” University of Georgia political scientist Charles S. Bullock III told us. Charles Stewart III, an election expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “I had also heard this generally reported as expanding early voting, so I’m surprised by the characterization.” He studied the precise language changes at our request and said it indicated an expansion of hours, especially in rural counties.

However, in the section of the hearing that went viral, Abrams made her point with more nuance than Biden. She made it clear she was talking about early voting. She also indicated she was talking about a theoretical possibility — that counties could choose to limit hours, even though those same counties currently allow longer hours. As she put it, it is “optional” for the counties.

Elsewhere in the hearing, Abrams was not quite as nuanced: “Another example is the falsity that this expands hours for voting. Yes, it codifies that you can vote between 9 to 5 as business hours, but for 78 percent of Georgians, prior to this bill the hours for voting during early voting was 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. So this actually eliminates hours of voting and mandates only a shortened period of time.”

Here’s what is going on.

The law used to say early “voting shall be conducted during normal business hours.” Experts said that generally means 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The new law makes it specific — “beginning at 9:00 AM and ending at 5:00 PM.”

A Georgia election official had told the Fact Checker that the change was made in part because some rural county election offices only operated part time during the week, not a full eight-hour day, so the shift to more specific times makes it clear they must be open every weekday for at least eight hours.

But the law also allows individual counties to set the hours anywhere between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. So the practical effect of the 5 p.m. reference in the law appears to be minimal.

“Essentially, its codifies the status quo into law, in the same way that having an Election Day polls closing time codifies the status quo into law,” Ari Schaffer, a spokesman for the Georgia secretary of state, said in an email. “While Election Day polls close times technically limit ballot access (i.e. if polls never closed you could go until everyone had voted or people could change their mind on their vote if they had a different perspective that better reflected their choice in the moment), having a law that says an election ends at a certain point isn’t really restricting voting as much as acknowledging a reality under law.”

At the hearing, Abrams noted that “for early in-person voting, 78 percent of counties already had more than the eight hours of early voting.” That begs the question as to why those counties would suddenly rush to scale back voting hours.

Nevertheless, Bringman insisted this is a real concern.

“We believe that some of these 78 percent of counties could look at the new, specified hours as a guide, justification, or even excuse to reduce their hours to only 8 hours — especially counties with increasing numbers of Black and brown voters,” Bringman said. “This is what Leader Abrams was explaining before one of many times she was rudely cut off by a Republican senator.”

In our lengthy email exchanges, Bringman emphasized that this is something Abrams is worried will happen — that counties will choose to accept the bare minimum, even though they have not done so in the past.

“She did not say ‘Senate bill 202 changed early voting hours from 7-7 and reduced them to 9-5,’” Bringman said. “She says it’s ‘optional for counties’ to go with the shorter hours, and she fears county boards that are hostile to the right to vote will do just that.”

Bringman conceded that, contrary to Abrams’s statement, “the previous law did not have the 7-7 restriction; it did not have any restriction.” But he argued that codifying “normal business hours” as 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. is “abhorrently insufficient as the minimum.” (Note: after this fact check was published, Bringman objected to the word “conceded” and said he did not concede anything.)

When we suggested that a person listening to her would think she said the voting was changed from 7-7 to 9-5, Bringman denied that was the case. “She did not say that,” he said.

Bringman also noted that the law prevents counties from allowing voting to extend past 7 p.m. “Under previous law, if a county wanted to remain open until 10 p.m., it could,” he said. “Now, it cannot allow a single voter to get in line after 7 p.m. except in the rare event of a judicial emergency extension.”

When we asked for an example of a county that had stayed open later than 7 p.m. in the last election, he pointed to Lee County. When we looked into it, it turned out it was just one location for one week — a library location with the hours of 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Under the new law, that location could be open for twice as long — say, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Bringman responded that it’s impossible to know how many counties might have expanded their hours past 7 p.m. in future elections because of the law. He noted that this library might not be able to accommodate an eight-hour period for early voting, meaning it could be closed as a location.

The Pinocchio Test

This is a good example of how different phrasing can change the Pinocchio count. Abrams tried to make the same general point as Biden, but she did it more artfully, especially in the clip that went viral. She made clear that she was talking about early-voting rules and she used words such as “may,” “optional” and “can,” avoiding the certitude of Biden’s statements.

At the same time, Abrams leaves the impression that the previous hours were 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and avoids saying the previous law had a vague “normal business hours” standard that sometimes meant even less than 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For ordinary people not attuned to the debate over the Georgia law, her language misleadingly implies that voting is restricted to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., especially when she says the law “eliminates hours of voting.”

Two Pinocchios

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