There’s a new report from the federal government that has some surprising data about last fall’s election.

According to the latest Election Administration and Voting Survey, Georgia led the nation in automated voter registration and accepted a higher percentage of absentee and provisional ballots than previous years.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office says that’s proof that voter suppression does not exist in Georgia, but those numbers are only part of the story.

Political reporter Stephen Fowler joined GPB’s Rickey Bevington in the studio to explain.

Rickey Bevington: A lot of attention, of course, given to last November's election. Critics say things like strict voter registration laws, long lines at the polls and confusing absentee ballot processes made it harder for some Georgians to vote. Now that the dust has settled, what does the data say?

Stephen Fowler: This report looks at everything from a mechanical standpoint, ranging from the number of polling place workers to the number of machines to the number of people that are registered to vote in the state and topline across the country.

This last fall's midterm saw record-breaking turnout and voter registration. Georgia specifically saw an increase in the number of registered voters, an increase in voter turnout, and an increase in the number of people that voted in-person during early voting. So that's to say, more people were registered and more people voted in Georgia last fall.

Bevington: In addition to that, Stephen, the Secretary of State's office says Georgia employes "forward thinking registration practices," what does he mean by that?

Fowler: So the Secretary is talking about voter registration, and Georgia has what's sometime known as a "Motor Voter law," which means when you go to the DMV, the Department of Driver Services, and do any sort of anything, your voter registration is updated.

Georgia led the country in the next number of those motor voter interactions with well over 3.5 million. The number of people registered in Georgia increased by nearly a million voters from 2014 to 2018. That is a record-setting number. Georgia also removed a bunch of people from the rolls for being inactive for several election cycles.

But since the overall number went up, that means way more people registered to vote than were removed from the rolls.

Bevington: That's voter registration. And yet, several lawsuits were filed about absentee and provisional ballots... is that reflected in this data?

Fowler: Quickly, Rickey, absentee voters are the people who request a mail ballot sent to them, they fill it out, send it back, it gets counted. Provisional ballots go to those people who show up to the polls on Election Day, and they're either not on the list of voters in that precinct or there's some other sort of problem. They have to do some sort of rectifying at the end to have it counted.

When it comes to absentee ballot, the state says that it accepted a larger number of absentee ballots than years previous and rejected much fewer than before. For provisional ballots. They issued more of them than previous years, but they also accepted a higher percentage.

Several of those lawsuits did deal with the provisional and absentee ballot process. But the secretary of state's office says that those lawsuits had a very minimal impact on the increases in votes that were counted.

Bevington: Georgia will soon select new voting machines. How will that affect next year's election?

Fowler: The new machines will bring challenges because it'll be a new system for people learn and potentially provides a new ease of use for people to come vote in person instead of say, voting by mail or having issues with provisional ballots.

And then we will have to see next year whether this record-setting number in 2018 of absentee and provisional and turnout and all this stuff is an anomaly or the start of a new trend for voting in Georgia and years to come.