Abrams, Democratic allies take aim at GOP efforts to restrict ballot access

By: - February 9, 2021 6:53 am

Fair Fight’s Stacey Abrams, election attorney Marc Elias and Southern Poverty Law Center have joined to oppose Republican legislators’ efforts to roll back absentee ballot access following big Democrat wins in the 2020 presidential election. In 2019, Abrams announced voter registration initiative Fair Fight 2020 at at Snellville’s Annistown Elementary. File/Georgia Recorder

Prominent voting rights groups and a high-profile Democratic election attorney argued Monday that Georgia Republicans are trying to pass state laws to make it harder to vote simply because statewide GOP candidates suffered defeats at the ballot box in the 2020 cycle.

Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams, attorney Marc Elias and the Southern Poverty Law Center announced a joint effort to oppose GOP proposals to dismantle the state’s no-excuse absentee voting, eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes and add ID requirements to vote absentee, to name just a few proposed new barriers. The Republicans behind the proposals say more security will restore confidence in Georgia’s election system.

The voting rights activists said they’ll continue to oppose legislation that threatens voters’ access to the ballot box. And should the Republican-controlled chambers pass those bills, they said they’re prepared to take their fight to court.

Many Georgia Republicans supported conspiracy theories and baseless claims of widespread election fraud peddled by then-President Donald Trump and his allies, who claim Democratic  President Joe Biden didn’t win the election, Elias said. He is the founder of Democracy Docket and a member of the Biden legal team that successfully persuaded judges to reject about 60 election lawsuits in Georgia and other battleground states.

“We have not been shy about litigating where Republicans overstep and violate the constitutional and statutory rights of voters, and that includes in Georgia,” Elias said during a joint virtual press conference.

“And if Georgia Republicans think that they are going to restrict the franchise and roll back voting rights, and particularly do so in a way that is targeted at Black, brown, and young voters, they have another thing coming. We will see them in court and we will win.”

Influential Republican lawmakers pledged last year to make big changes after a record number of Georgians cast votes with an absentee ballot in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a record-smashing 1.3 million absentee votes cast in the general election as many Georgians skipped long waits and the risk of infection at polling places.

In early December, Georgia House and Senate Republicans hosted Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani at state Capitol hearings where witnesses shared unfounded election fraud claims and baseless conspiracy theories about absentee ballots and the state’s new Dominion electronic voting system.

Republicans Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and then-U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr concluded there is no evidence of widespread fraud in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election. Raffensperger calls it the most secure election ever in Georgia, with results confirmed by recounts and audits.

Abrams said many of the proposals from Republican lawmakers attempt to revamp a voting system GOP officials vigorously defended in 2019 because many of them didn’t accept that Trump lost.

“It is unconscionable that Republicans would respond to the engagement of voters of every color of every creed and across every region of Georgia and across the states of the U.S. by trying to retract and retrench on voter suppression,” Abrams said Monday. “This isn’t just happening in Georgia. It’s happening in Pennsylvania and Texas and Arizona and more states across the country.”

Georgia lawmakers filed more than 20 voting-related bills so far early in the 2021 legislative session. Democratic lawmakers are pushing in the opposite direction, filing legislation to allow people to cast ballots on the same day as they register to vote. Republicans want to require people to send in photocopies of their driver’s license to vote absentee and to stop third parties from sending out absentee ballot applications – a common and legal practice.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan said last week he intends to file wide-ranging legislation this session that will scale down the state’s absentee ballot system and restrict the use of absentee drop boxes in Georgia’s 159 counties.

Dugan said he intends to strengthen the state’s voting laws after many Georgians say they’ve lost confidence in its security.

Some Republican officials have said Democrats cast doubts about the integrity of the 2018 gubernatorial election, which Abrams narrowly lost to Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston have expressed support for additional ID requirements for absentee ballots but want to keep no-excuse absentee voting.

GOP efforts to curtail voting access could end up backfiring by rallying more people to turn out if the new laws do stand up to legal challenges,” said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.

“The whole effort here may be Republicans trying to lock the barn door after the horse is out,” Bullock said. “There’s been a large number of people who in 2018 maybe voted for the very first time or in 2020 voted for the first time that says ‘oh this isn’t that difficult.’ And some of these new voters are going to become habitual voters.”

Southern Poverty Law Center President and CEO Margaret Huang said Monday that her organization wants the Biden administration to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Biden said on the campaign trail last summer soon after Lewis’ death that passing the act named in honor of the late civil rights icon would be a high priority if he got elected.

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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