For The Record

Senate panel moves to end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia

By: - March 1, 2021 11:38 pm

A Senate panel narrowly voted to advance a bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia. Sen. Brian Strickland, a Republican, voted against it. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder (File photo)

The state Senate is poised to consider restrictive voting legislation that would require Georgians to have a reason to vote absentee, putting an end to the no-excuse system the GOP created in 2005 and that many Georgians relied on during the pandemic.

The Senate Ethics Committee hastily passed a wide-ranging proposal that would overhaul the state’s election laws Monday evening with a 7-to-5 vote. Sen. Brian Strickland, a McDonough Republican, cast a dissenting vote with the Democrats.

The bill was voted out of committee just hours after the House passed its contentious plan to restrict early voting hours, add new limits on absentee drop boxes and require voters to include a government ID number with their absentee ballot application.

The Senate’s proposal would go much further by eliminating no-excuse absentee voting. A record 1.3 million people cast a mail-in ballot as an alternative to risking exposure to the coronavirus at a polling place.

“In an effort to contain costs, to make sure we have an elections program that is not over tasked and to make sure that every eligible voter is sure that they have their vote recognized – those are the reasons that I’m looking at having some excuse requirement for absentee mail-in ballots,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, who is sponsoring the measure.

Strickland tried without success to have that language scrubbed from the bill.

“I have not heard consistent support for this around this building either,” he said.

Strickland noted, though, the broader support that does exist under the Gold Dome for a government ID number requirement, which Gov. Brian Kemp has said he favors and is a concept that has already cleared the Senate and now the House. Most Democrats oppose an ID requirement for absentee voting.

Under the proposal, absentee voting would be off limits with some exceptions, like for those 65 years and older and voters with disabilities.

The bill would also create a hotline in the Attorney General’s Office for voters to report allegations of voter intimidation and illegal election activities while reining in the powers of the secretary of state and the State Election Board during a public health emergency.

It also requires third-party groups that send out absentee ballot applications to include a disclaimer saying the mailer is not from the government.

The Senate panel signed off Monday evening after Dugan offered a new version of his plan at the same meeting. The bill drew concerns from voting rights advocates, a labor union and others who urged lawmakers to slow down while some GOP activists said the proposal does not go far enough.

“It is a comprehensive piece of legislation that’s being forced through committee without taking the opportunity to really see what the impact is,” said Cindy Battles, policy and engagement director for Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda.

“If the intent of all of these things is to actually create confidence in our elections, doing so in a rushed, non-transparent way doesn’t accomplish that,” she said.

Absentee voting was the target of unfounded claims of widespread fraud after the November presidential election, when former President Donald Trump narrowly lost Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

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Jill Nolin
Jill Nolin

Jill Nolin has spent nearly 15 years reporting on state and local government in four states, focusing on policy and political stories and tracking public spending. She has spent the last five years chasing stories in the halls of Georgia’s Gold Dome, earning recognition for her work showing the impact of rising opioid addiction on the state’s rural communities. She is a graduate of Troy University.