Eric Tanenblatt
Phone: +1 404 527 8114 Email: eric.tanenblatt@dentons.com

With a keen understanding of the American political process, Eric Tanenblatt is the co-practice leader of Dentons' US Public Policy and Regulation practice and a leader of the global Government sector team and global Public Policy and Regulation practice, focusing on governmental affairs at the federal, state and local levels.


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Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signs expansive new elections bill

Introduction

Late last week, the Georgia General Assembly passed and Governor Brian Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 202 — a far-reaching overhaul of state election law that will have a significant impact on the electoral process across the State of Georgia for years to come. The bill, opposed en masse by Democrats and many voting rights advocacy groups, impacts nearly every aspect of the election system in Georgia, including vote tabulation, voter identification requirements, State Election Board composition and ballot drop box placement and accessibility. The bill passed along party lines in both the House (100-75) and the Senate (34-20) on March 25 and was signed by the Governor that same day.

This alert is intended to provide an overview of the bill and its major positions. A more detailed analysis can be provided upon request.

Absentee ballots

One of the most impactful and widely-reported aspects of the 98-page bill is its establishment of absentee ballot identification requirements for Georgia voters. While the right to vote by absentee for any reason was preserved, any person applying for an absentee-by-mail ballot will now have to provide the following personal information to receive a ballot:

  • His or her name
  • Date of birth
  • Registration address
  • Address where the elector wishes the ballot to be mailed
  • The number of his or her Georgia driver’s license or issued identification card
  • A copy of an alternative form of identification if such elector does not have a Georgia driver’s license or issued identification card

When returning an absentee ballot, Georgia voters will now also need to provide the following on a separate ballot envelope inside the return envelope:

  • His or her name
  • A signature
  • The number of his or her Georgia driver’s license or issued identification card
  • An affirmation that the voter does not have a Georgia driver’s license or identification card in the event he or she does not possess such a license or card 
  • Date of birth
  • The last four digits of his or her Social Security Number if the elector does not have a Georgia driver’s license or state identification card

In addition to requiring the above information in conjunction with the absentee ballot request and return processes, the bill shortens the time frame within which voters can request absentee ballots under state law. The request period will now start 11 weeks before any given election and end 11 days before such election. Finally, state and local governments are prohibited from distributing unsolicited absentee applications to potential voters, and third-party groups circulating absentee ballot applications to Georgia voters are required to utilize prescribed labeling on materials and only send such materials to individuals who have not already requested, received or voted such absentee ballots.

Ballot drop boxes

In the wake of the State Elections Board’s emergency authorization of ballot drop box usage during the 2020 election due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Bill 202 codifies the permissibility of drop box usage and requires all counties to have at least one such depository. The bill places limits, however, on the total number of drop boxes per county, capping the allowable number of depositories at the lesser of either one drop box for every 100,000 active registered voters or the total number of advance voting locations in the county.

In addition to restricting the number of total ballot drop box locations that Georgia counties can utilize for election purposes, Senate Bill 202 also mandates that drop box depositories: be located only inside early voting locations; be used only during advanced voting hours; and be under constant surveillance by an election official, law enforcement official or licensed security guard. Finally, the bill prohibits the usage of ballot drop boxes by voters during the last four days before an election.

Runoff election changes

In response to recent consternation over the lengthy runoff period codified in Georgia law for primary, general and special runoff elections, Senate Bill 202 seeks to shorten Georgia’s existing nine-week runoff period down to four weeks by sending military and overseas voters instant-runoff ranked choice absentee ballots. The legislation also shortens in-person early voting for runoff elections to a period of one week before election day. Additionally, Senate Bill 202 also replaces the previous “jungle primary” system for special election seats with a framework that includes party primaries. 

Early voting

At present under Georgia law, in-person early voting for general elections is required for three weeks prior to election day during “normal business hours” Monday through Friday and during the same time period on one Saturday during the pre-election period. Senate Bill 202 adds an extra Saturday to this early voting period and affords localities the option of instituting Sunday early voting as they see fit.

Despite this expansion of early voting opportunities for general elections, the incorporation of a shortened runoff period for state runoff elections will reduce early voting in such settings to just one week before the special election date.

Election management

Senate Bill 202 also contains a wide range of election management provisions that will have a significant impact on how Georgia elections will proceed in upcoming cycles. These changes include the following:

  • Allowing officials to process absentee ballots before the official closing of polls on election day
  • Requiring officials to count ballots nonstop once the polls close
  • Allowing flexibility with voting equipment for smaller, lower-turnout races
  • Prohibiting local election officials and boards of registrars from accepting outside funding, grants or gifts from private third-party groups
  • Permitting poll workers to serve in neighboring counties
  • Clarifying that poll hours at precinct locations may only be extended by judicial order upon showing of good cause
  • Requiring that no later than 10PM on election night counties must make public the total number of votes cast by each method
  • Mandating that all absentee ballots have to be counted by 5PM the day after the election
  • Disallowing voters who go to the wrong precinct from submitting provisional ballots in most cases
  • Requiring specific paper with additional security features to be used for ballots to create a verifiable paper trail of votes
  • Requiring precincts with more than 2,000 voters that have lines longer than an hour at three different points throughout the day to add more machines, add more staff or split up the precincts
  • Prohibiting the use of phones, cameras and other electronic devices to photograph or record a voted ballot or an elector while voting a ballot
  • Requiring the Secretary of State to conduct a pilot program to post scanned ballot images from elections
  • Establishing a hotline to the Attorney General’s office to report illegal or fraudulent behavior
  • Requiring counties to certify election results within six days
  • Limiting mobile polling stations to emergencies
  • Extending the current state bar on electioneering and political engagement activities in and around polling places and voter lines to include the third-party distribution of food and drink to prospective voters

State Election Board changes

Senate Bill 202 also makes several notable changes to the composition and powers of the Georgia State Election Board, bringing it under control of the state legislature and allowing it, in specific circumstances, to unilaterally take control of elections from local elections officials. In regard to composition, the legislation removes the Secretary of State as chair of the State Election Board and replaces him with a chairperson elected by the General Assembly.

Under the legislation’s provisions, the State Election Board has also been granted the power to remove county election boards and replace them with an interim elections manager if they deem the local boards as in need of intervention. At no time may the State Election Board suspend more than four county or municipal elections managers. This process is initiated by the ability of county commissions, the General Assembly, or the State Election Board to initiate a performance review of local officials.

Conclusion

As summarized above, Senate Bill 202 significantly amends the electoral process in Georgia and will have a profound impact on future state election cycles. Despite the bill’s passage, however, the political and legal fight over its various components has just begun. Although two major provisions contained in an earlier version of the law — the termination of non-excuse absentee voting for individuals under 65 and the prohibition of Sunday voting — were struck from the final legislation, several voting rights groups have vowed to fight the bill in court. As of the publication of this alert, a federal lawsuit has already been filed by third-party organizations challenging the absentee ID requirements, drop box limits, provisional ballot invalidations, and food and drink distribution bar as “unjustifiable burdens” on Georgia voters. The Dentons Georgia Public Policy and Political Law Teams will continue to monitor those lawsuits as they proceed, and likewise seek to update our clients on other election and voting rights matters in Georgia and beyond, as they are certain to be a major political focus in the 2022 statewide elections and upcoming federal legislative battles in Congress.  

Time for Ga., nation to rediscover ties that bind

Ed. note: This article was originally published in the AJC. Click here to view.

As Charles Dickens wrote so eloquently, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

On Wednesday, Georgia started the day recognizing the elections of the state’s first Black and the first Jewish United States senators. As active members of state Republican politics, we wish them well and hope they will seek to represent our state and country’s best ideals.

Only hours later, however, the nation was shocked and dismayed when thugs attacked the very heart of the American experiment in democracy in a shameful attempt to subvert a free and fair election.

Historian Theodore H. White once wrote: “Heroes and philosophers, brave men and vile, have since Rome and Athens tried to make the transfer of power work effectively; no people has succeeded at it better, or over a longer period of time, than the Americans.” Make no mistake: the events earlier in the week at the Capitol were acts of domestic terrorism and sedition intended to arrest the peaceful transfer of power, which is the cornerstone of a free people and government.

Our Republican Party — created on the principle of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of limited government, Abraham Lincoln’s drive to eliminate slavery, and Ronald Reagan’s big-tent philosophy — must respond to the trauma inflicted upon the nation and our democracy this week.

As fair-minded Republicans, we recognize that our friends in the Democratic Party similarly seek to build a more perfect union. We just disagree on the means.

Georgians can look to their past leaders, from Democrat Sam Nunn and Republican Johnny Isakson, who understood that successful politics is about addition and not division. Now is a time for reconciliation, a moment that demands a higher standard of leadership.

Statesmanship, not partisanship, must be the norm in these difficult times. Words may not hurt you, but they can encourage harm. Let’s not use this abyss for more threats and insults.

We must seek our better angels, not retweets. Georgia and these United States need two strong parties that lead on principles, seeking hope and opportunity, not fear and resentment.

Let us work together for a greater country, one where all Americans are truly equal under the law. Let’s fight to restore a nation in which political institutions are preserved, election results are respected, and common decency is required.

As U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, stated, “The American people are tough, our Constitutional order is strong, and we will meet this moment with strength and grace.” Following the rule of law, we will be stronger and successfully lead our state, nation, and world to much greater heights.

Edward Lindsey is a former Georgia House Majority Whip, Sam Olens is a former Georgia Attorney General and Eric Tanenblatt is former chief of staff to former Gov. Sonny Perdue. All three are now with the global law firm Dentons.

US Policy Scan 2021

Dentons’ US Public Policy practice is pleased to release its annual Policy Scan, an in-depth look at policy at the Federal level and in each of the 50 states. In this document we provide a first look at the key policy questions for the next year in the states, the House of Representatives, the Senate and the new Administration. Additionally, we examine the people who will be driving change.

US Policy Scan 2021 takes deep dives into the turbulent political and policy waters swirling around agriculture, cannabis, education, energy and the environment, financial services, foreign policy, health care, housing and community investment, immigration, infrastructure, smart cities and communities, national security, Native American communities, tax, technology, trade, and voting rights and government reform. All with an eye toward providing you with a clear, comprehensive and reader-friendly description of what US public policy will look like in 2021.

Other features include:

  • 2021 Congressional and State House Session Calendars
  • First 100 days of the Biden Administration
  • Biden cabinet nominees and senior White House staff appointees
  • New Committee Chairs and Rankers
  • Analysis of 2022 US Senate races
  • Key decided and pending cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.

And as in years past, we have also included a review of state legislative activity in 2020, an overview of legislation passed by the House Democrats in the 116th Congress that didn’t see movement in the Republican controlled Senate, and the policy drivers that will shape state legislative and executive branch activity in 2021.

We hope you find this report helpful and informative.

US Election Insight 2020

Biden Declared by News Networks To Be America’s Next President

Elections Insights 2020 Cover

While the states of Alaska, Georgia and North Carolina have not yet been called, and President Trump has not conceded the election’s outcome, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., is expected to be the next President of the United States and Senator Kamala Harris the Vice President-elect, and the first woman and person of color to serve in that role.

After being declared the winner in Pennsylvania by many media organizations, President-elect Biden has won states with 290 Electoral College votes, more than the 270 votes required to be elected, while President Trump has won states with 213 Electoral College votes.
With over 13 million votes nationwide still to be counted, Biden holds a majority of the national popular vote, with a lead of about 4.1 million votes (about 2.8%) that is anticipated to expand as more votes from the West Coast, especially California, are counted. This is the seventh time in the last eight presidential elections that the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote.

President Trump and his supporters have initiated multiple lawsuits seeking to dispute and overturn these election results. However, unless these legal actions ultimately persuade the courts to disqualify sufficient ballots in states that have been called for Biden in a manner that would alter the Electoral College result, an outcome that appears highly unlikely, the presidential race is over.

Control of the Senate Will Be Determined by Two Georgia Runoff Elections on January 5, 2021

In the Senate, at this writing Republicans and Democrats each have secured 48 seats. Democrats have achieved a net gain of only one seat to date, with 4 races uncalled: two of which are expected to remain Republican (Alaska and North Carolina) and two seats in Georgia. With a Democratic White House, Democrats need to pick up two more seats in order to capture the Senate. Under Georgia law, US Senate candidates must receive 50% of the total votes cast or face a runoff election. As none of the candidates reached the 50% threshold, there will be two runoff Senate elections in Georgia on January 5, 2021. If Republicans win at least one of these two races, Senator Mitch McConnell will remain the Majority Leader, while Democrats will control the chamber if they win both runoffs.

Democrats will continue to have the majority in the House of Representatives, but with a narrowed margin, to the surprise of many Democrats who were expecting at least modest gains to their House majority. Thus far, Republicans have achieved a net pick-up of about five seats.

Click here to see our Election Results on One Page, our preview of the Biden Transition Team members and a look ahead to potential Biden Cabinet members.

US Election Insight 2020 – Results as of 4:30 p.m. ET

Since the release of this morning’s Results Report, there have been several developments which have materially increased the chances that former Vice President Biden will be America’s next President and that Republicans will continue to control the Senate. While President Trump continues to have paths to 270, former Vice President Biden continues to have several more pathways.

  • In the presidential race, the Associated Press has declared Biden the winner in Wisconsin. With all but about 300 votes counted, Biden leads Trump by 20,510 votes. As the difference in vote totals is less than 1% of the votes cast, the Trump campaign will seek a recount but it cannot commence until late next week after a canvass of the votes has been completed.
  • In Nevada, the state elections commission announced this morning that no more results will be announced until noon Eastern time tomorrow. The votes that remain to be counted are expected to increase the Biden lead.
  • In Michigan, with 93% of the vote in and Vice President Biden now leading by about 37,000 votes, the Michigan Secretary of State said that she expected to have a very clear if not final picture of the election results by tonight. Several news organizations have called the state for Biden.
  • In Georgia, with 93% of the vote in and President Trump leading by about 78,000 votes, about 230,000 votes from counties expected to favor Biden remain to be counted. The Georgia Secretary of State expects the number of uncounted votes to be substantially reduced, if not exhausted, by the end of today.
  • In Pennsylvania, where President Trump leads by about 355,000 votes with 83% of the votes in, the remaining mail ballots come from Philadelphia and Allegheny County and are expected to favor Vice President Biden decisively. Pennsylvania election officials expect that most of the ballots outstanding will be counted by the end of this Friday.  

Democrats continue to have a net gain of one seat in the US Senate. With Senator Susan Collins’ re-election win in Maine, the window for Democrats to capture control of the Senate has narrowed considerably, even if Vice President Biden is elected President. As Alaska is expected to remain a Republican seat, even assuming that Senator Gary Peters pulls out a win in Michigan, Democrats would have to win both Georgia seats to gain control, a highly unlikely prospect. The balance of power has not materially changed in the House since this morning’s report.  

Finally, in a year where very little changed when it comes to state legislative control, New Hampshire gave Joe Biden and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen large victories, then turned around and elected Republican Governor Chris Sununu to another term and flipped democratic majorities in the House and Senate to republican majorities going into 2021. The flip makes New Hampshire the only new “Trifecta” government (single party control of the governorship, House and Senate) of the cycle.

We will update this report tomorrow morning and sooner if exceptional circumstances require it.

Election Insight 2020 – RESULTS OF AS OF 7:30 A.M. ET

It remains uncertain which candidate will be the next President of the United States as President Trump and former Vice President Biden each have paths available to them to reach the 270 electoral votes required to serve as the next president.

Even if post-election litigation challenging the results were not to ensue, it could be several days before the final results are determined in the seven states that have not yet been called. (Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.) However, in a speech at 2:30 a.m. ET this morning, President Trump claimed victory and said that he would have his lawyers go to the Supreme Court seeking to prohibit the counting of ballots that have not yet been tabulated in the states that have not been called.

Having lost a seat in Alabama, the Democrats currently have achieved a net gain of one Senate seat, picking up GOP held seats in Arizona and Colorado. Six Senate races remain to be called – Alaska, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and a January 5th runoff for at least one, and possibly two Georgia seats. Finally, it appears that when all the House races are finally called, House Republicans will pick up three or four seats despite the forecast of several pollsters that House Democrats would expand their majority by at least 5-10 seats or as many as 20-25 seats on a good night.

The election results clearly indicate that there were significant problems with both state level and some national polling by Democrats and that those who had predicted a “Blue Wave” election were sorely mistaken. It’s unclear whether these problems stemmed from the unwillingness of Trump voters to share their voting intentions with pollsters, whether the problems were with the polling methods used, or some combination of both. Whatever the reasons, many Democrats will be seeking an explanation and demanding an autopsy. We will update this report later today and periodically thereafter as additional races are called.

To catch up on previous election updates, visit our 2020 Presidential Election page here.

PRESIDENTIAL PREVIEW: The Battle for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave

With a weekend to go before election day, the Dentons Public Policy team looks at the political climate, the polling, the battlegrounds and how and when the nation could learn the winner in our presidential preview, “The Battle for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave Report.” We believe the outcome of the presidential election will depend, to a significant degree, on whether voters view the race as a choice between two alternatives, each with positive and negative factors, or as a referendum on the President’s leadership. Pre-pandemic, President Trump was prepared to run hard on his record. But the pandemic robbed him of his strongest argument for re-election—a booming economy—leaving him no choice but to focus on Joe Biden’s flaws. 

Whether the American people are buying this line of attack remains to be seen, but recent polls suggest it is not working.

On Wednesday morning, November 4, our Public Policy team will be issuing a detailed report on the election results that are then available. We will be updating this report later in the day, and on succeeding days as necessary, to provide not only the presidential results but a comprehensive picture of what the next US House and Senate will look like. 

Whatever the outcome of the elections, once it becomes clear who will be taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021, and who will control the Congress, we also will be releasing additional reports that profile many of the people who are expected to play key roles in the next administration and that explore the central elements of, and prospects for, the legislative agenda of the winning presidential candidate.   

US HOUSE AND SENATE ELECTIONS PREVIEW – The Battle For Control Of Congress

Dentons’ Public Policy team has developed a US House and Senate Elections Preview to provide the latest developments as we approach the November elections.

A VIEW FROM THE STATES: Dentons 50 State Network review of the political landscape

Dentons’ Public Policy group has provided a synopsis of the political landscape for each state prepared by members of our Dentons 50 network — experts from all 50 state capitols with a pulse on federal, state and local races in their respective states. We also highlight the states with governors races, attorneys general races and the 22 state chambers considered “battle grounds” with their current majorities.

Labor Day 2020 Election Primer: A Look Ahead to November

As the saying goes, “Eight weeks before an election is a lifetime in politics.” If you have any doubts about the truth of this adage, we suggest speaking with “Presidents” Michael Dukakis or Hillary Clinton! Simply put, there are few, if any, slam dunks in politics. Elections continue to have the capacity to surprise and confound. When the Democratic primary process began with over 25 candidates, who would ever have thought that we would end up with an election between two of the oldest candidates ever to run for the office?

Current polling indicates that, if the election were held today, Vice President Biden is near or above the 270 electoral votes he needs to win election. These same polls say the Senate would flip, ever so narrowly, to Democratic control and the House Democratic majority would be relatively unchanged.

However Labor Day is certainly not Election Day (see Dukakis and Hillary mentions above). And now is, historically, when the race officially begins.

This Election Primer, the first in Dentons’ Election Series, sets the stage for the race to November. From the “top of the ticket” to the down-ballot congressional and state house contests across the country, we track the races that could change majorities in November. More detailed reports will be released as we get closer to election day. We hope this 10,000-foot view helps get you up to speed.

Download the Labor Day 2020 Election Primer