GEORGIA – The tension between Georgia voter access and GOP lawmakers’ efforts to defuse perceptions of election irregularities last year continued to build Thursday as protesters, Democrats and civil rights groups denounced Republican legislation intended to restrict access to the ballot box.
The Senate Ethics Committee is scheduled to hold a second hearing Monday to consider a Senate Republican Caucus sweeping proposal that would drastically reshape Georgia election laws.
But in a sign that some Republicans might be softening their stance, Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said he would work with GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leader, Sen. Brian Strickland, to strip language that would have ended no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia.
Strickland, a McDonough Republican, urged Dugan Thursday to instead shift attention to an absentee ballot ID requirement that’s already attracted strong GOP backing.
Kemp along with fellow top Republican officials Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, House Speaker David Ralston and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger are on record in favor of ending the signature-match method of verification for absentee ballot applications and instead requiring a driver’s license or state ID number. That narrow proposal is in a bill that cleared the Senate earlier this week.
“In looking at conversations about election reform in the Capitol, it at least seems to be that no other place in the Capitol that we find support for a provision like this,” Strickland said of ending no-excuse absentee voting.
Dugan said the GOP Caucus spent hundreds of hours crafting the overarching bill to restore faith in the state’s election system that many Georgians say they lost last year after former President Donald Trump repeatedly said it was rigged against him.
He said the caucus supported overhauling Georgia’s 2005 absentee voting law to alleviate some of the pressure on county election staff flooded with absentee ballots in 2020, overwhelming a system unprepared for millions of Georgians voting by mail due to the pandemic.
“All we’re trying to do here is to make sure that we can afford it, that our offices can manage it and that voters are certain their vote actually counted,” Dugan said.
Dugan’s bill is one of many filed this session that’s led to Georgia being ranked near the top in the nation by the Brennan Center for Justice for new restrictive legislative voting proposals.
Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Stone Mountain Democrat, said that Republicans are irrationally justifying efforts to disenfranchise voters, with extra ID requirements for absentee ballots and new restrictions on absentee drop boxes.
Many of GOP-backed voting bills are in response to unfounded claims of widespread voting irregularities and fraud that Trump and many of his supporters say denied him a second term. President Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia in November to become the first Democrat to win the state in three decades.
Raffensperger refused demands from Trump and allies to overturn the results of the November election and endured withering criticism from fellow Republicans.
“If you don’t want to be called vote suppressors, don’t pass laws that make Georgia one of the hardest places in this country to vote by mail,” said Butler at a Capitol press conference held by the Black Legislative Caucus.
A House GOP-sponsored bill featuring many of the same proposals criticized by Democrats advanced through a special election committee on Wednesday. That bill also adds the absentee ballot ID requirement, bans provisional ballots if someone votes outside of their precinct and restricts absentee ballot drop boxes to locations inside early voting precincts.
At a Washington appearance Thursday, Fair Fight Action founder and prominent Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams criticized state Republican lawmakers for trying to repeal automatic voter registration at the driver’s license office and attempting to restrict early voting and absentee voting options.
“Georgia stands as a singular example of the legislative whiplash from defending the integrity of elections in November and January to these naked attempts to erect new hurdles for voters of color, young voters, poor voters and other marginalized communities,” Abrams said during a hearing before the U.S. Committee on House Administration.
As Georgia lawmakers met inside the Capitol Thursday, a group of protesters assembled outside to decry the sweeping GOP proposals in the Senate and House as racist and a step backward for voting rights based on the unfounded perception that Georgia’s 2020 election was plagued with irregularities.
“They’re trying to suppress our vote,” Britt Jones-Chukura, co-founder of Justice for Georgia, shouted into a megaphone outside the Capitol. “They’re trying. But we spoke in November and we’re speaking again, and we’re saying, ‘Don’t touch our vote!’”
Gloria Jenkins, chair of the senior caucus of the state Democratic Party who joined protesters Thursday, said the proposed new identification requirements for absentee voting will hurt older Georgians the most.
Jenkins said that proposal and the many other changes being considered under the Gold Dome to highlight the need for federal legislation safeguarding the ballot box.
“When I was born, our ancestors were fighting the same fight. Why are we having to do it today,” said Jenkins.