On the eve of the 2021 legislative session, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston refused Thursday to call for an end to no-excuse absentee ballots as some of his Republican colleagues are demanding, but did advocate for other significant changes to how Georgia runs its elections.
Several days before starting what legislators expect to be a contentious session with election procedures taking the spotlight after Democrats made historic gains, the GOP’s Ralston announced he’ll appoint a new election committee and his plans to push to take away election duties from the secretary of state’s office. Yet, while the Republican Senate Caucus calls for ending the ability of Georgians to vote absentee without citing a reason, Ralston said he thinks it’s a bridge too far.
Georgia’s voters who use absentee ballots are a focal point of many Republicans as record numbers of voters in recent elections cast ballots by mail and drop boxes during the COVID-19 pandemic. President Donald Trump and his supporters launched accusations that the state’s signature verification process allowed scores of illegal votes and other irregularities meant the state’s November election was rife with fraud despite repeated recounts to confirm results.
Georgia’s election system has come under constant attack from the outgoing president and many state Republican leaders, culminating on Wednesday as unfounded accusations and conspiracies sparked violence at the nation’s Capitol.
Ralston said Thursday he is not interested in revisiting the massive fraud claims about the Nov. 3 general election and debating Tuesday’s runoff results, but wanted to make sure Georgians are confident in the voting system.
The long-serving House Speaker said that the new election committee will work to ensure confidence for future elections. He said he prefers changes such as requiring a photo ID for absentee ballots but doesn’t want to overhaul the whole system.
“Let me be clear about this: Our focus is not on looking back,” Ralston said during a pre-legislative media briefing at the Capitol. “Moving forward, we will devote time and attention necessary to our election process, but it will not be all that we do this session.’
Since the Nov. 3 general election, the president has called upon GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign over accusations of a poorly run system and unfounded claims of rampant voter fraud.
Ralston said Thursday that he prefers state lawmakers pass a bill to create a new elections office instead of assigning the secretary of state to oversee the state voting system.
“I think members of the Legislature have a unique perspective on the views of the people of Georgia,” Ralston said.
Democrat Rep. Josh McLaurin said it appears Republican leaders are pushing for changes not because of a broken system but because election defeats in Georgia suffered by Trump and Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue.
He noted that two recounts verified the presidential election results confirming Biden’s win and that a Georgia Bureau of Investigation signature audit on thousands of Cobb County ballots revealed no fraud.
“My concern in general with any of the efforts I think we’re going to see from the majority during the session is that they’re not motivated by good policy or by a track record of evidence that changes need to be made,” said McLaurin, of Sandy Springs. “They’re motivated by the fact that Joe Biden won the state of Georgia in the presidential election, and it’s really that simple.”