(Headline USA) Georgia’s state Senate narrowly passed a bill to end no-excuse absentee voting Monday, as Republicans move to restore traditional safeguards and accountability measures that state officials had unilaterally ignored during the 2020 election.
Setting aside questions over whether Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger violated the state constitution in agreeing to the demands of activist and failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, state legislators reasserted their sole authority to establish election rules.
The changes agreed to by Raffensperger and Abrams last February significantly scaled back measures such as signature verification, leading to accounts of widespread vote fraud that aided Democratic victories in the state’s presidential race and two U.S. Senate runoffs.
The bill is likely headed to a Senate–House conference committee where the chambers will hash out their difference on the issue. That could mean significant changes before the two chambers vote again on whether to agree to a compromise bill.
However, it is still unclear whether Gov. Brian Kemp—a Republican who drew condemnation from then-President Donald Trump and many others in the party for his inaction during the recent election—will agree to sign the final product.
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Senate Bill 241 would limit absentee voting to people 65 and older, those with a physical disability and people who will be out of town on Election Day—ending broad no-excuse absentee voting introduced by the Republican-led legislature in 2005. It would also require an ID for those who are able to vote absentee, among many other changes.
The bill passed the state Senate 29-20 in a vote that fell along party lines. Bills must get at least 29 votes for a majority in the 56-member Senate.
Several Republicans who could face tough reelection battles in quickly changing metro Atlanta districts didn’t vote, including Sens. John Albers, Kay Kirkpatrick and Brian Strickland. Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who has denounced efforts to limit who can vote absentee, refused to preside over the debate.
The bill is part of a flood of legislation introduced by Republicans across the country that would restore voter-integrity measures that, in many cases, Democrat officials circumvented while using the coronavirus pandemic as their excuse to ignore the rule of law.
In some instances, the GOP-led legislatures had specifically passed their own resolutions only to be ignored by leftist governors and elected officials in direct violation of the Constitution.
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But the need to get the legislation on the books is even more dire as Democrats in the US Congress eye the passage of HR1, a dramatic overhaul of election laws that would essentially subvert state authority and introduce widespread corruption to ensure permanent majorities for their party.
In Georgia, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, the chief sponsor of the bill, said a surge in absentee ballots during the last election cycle caused a burden on county election offices.
More than a million ballots were included in the final tally, although eyewitnesses reported irregularities including the same ballot being run through dozens of times and ballots arriving to be counted with no creases, signalling they had not ever been placed into their absentee envelopes.
“The increasing burden on local election offices and the increased cost to each of our counties has risen significantly,” Dugan said. “In recent years the number of mail-in absentee ballots has increased to the point where counties are in essence running three elections simultaneously.”
Dugan said about 2.7 million Georgians would still be eligible to vote absentee under the specific excuses outlined in the bill.
Democrats in the chamber claimed the bill was a direct reaction to Trump’s lies about fraud and would disproportionately affect voters of color.
“The purpose of 241 and all of the vote-limiting bills that we have before us is to validate a lie,” Democratic Sen. Nikki Merritt said. “It is to prevent massive voter turnout from happening again, especially in minority communities, our new voters who are turning 18 and hard-working Georgians.”
Naturally, some were quick to throw the race card, a canard that has often been used to misdirect the discussion of voter-integrity even though the same voter safeguards apply across the board.
“It smells like Jim Crow laws of the past. This smells like poll taxing. This smells like voter suppression,” claimed Democratic Sen. Lester Jackson.
The Senate did not vote on a separate proposal that would end automatic voter registration when a person gets a driver’s license Monday, the deadline for bills to get passed by one chamber in order to remain alive for the session. But there are procedural ways to resurrect a proposal, and the idea could pop back up in a conference committee.
The Senate action comes as a task force convened by Georgia’s secretary of state expressed concern that the legislation is being rushed.
Members of the group formed by Raffensperger released a statement Monday saying “the legislative process is proceeding at a pace that does not allow full examination of all factors that must be considered.”
“There is a need for responsible elections policymaking to be deliberate and evidence-based, not rushed,” the statement continues. “When we see proposals that properly balance voter access with integrity, we will voice support.”
Twelve members of the task force signed off on the statement, which specifically noted that three other members were not included.
Georgia’s House has already passed a wide-ranging election bill backed by Republicans. The House bill would require a photo ID for absentee voting, limit the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot, restrict where ballot drop boxes could be located and when they could be accessed, and limit early voting hours on weekends.
The latter provision has raised concerns among voting rights groups who say the proposal seems targeted at hampering Sunday voting — a popular day for Black churchgoers to vote in “souls to the polls” events.
Kemp has endorsed the idea of requiring a photo ID for absentee voting but has yet to back any specific proposals. Raffensperger says he favors ending no-excuse absentee voting as well as requiring an ID for mail voting.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press