State lawmakers push changes after absentee ballots key in 2020 election

    Georgia Senate Republicans said Tuesday they will push for legislation in 2021 putting an end to a no excuse absentee ballot law passed in 2005.

    Georgia’s state Senate Republicans conceded Tuesday they don’t have the votes to call for a special legislative session or the authority to overturn the Nov. 3 presidential election, but they vowed to restrict access to mail-in voting when they return next month for the new legislative session. 

    Eliminating no-excuse absentee balloting is high on the list, a new sore point when Democrats scored big wins after a record 1.3 million Georgians used absentee ballots in Georgia’s general election this year. Many voters turned to that form of voting to avoid possible exposure to the coronavirus at polling places. 

    A statement released Tuesday by the Senate Republican caucus also said GOP lawmakers intend to require photo ID to vote absentee, and they want to restrict counties from collecting ballots in drop boxes.

    A small group of Georgia state senators this month pushed for a special session of the Legislature before its scheduled return Jan. 11, but Gov. Brian Kemp and other state leaders say that is not legal.

    President Donald Trump’s supporters are fixing attention on the processing of absentee ballots counted after Election Day. The now-certified election results narrowly tilted the vote in favor of President-elect Joe Biden when absentees were counted days after Nov. 3 as the law requires.  Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has weathered criticism from fellow Republicans since the spring when he sent out 6.9 million absentee ballot request forms in an unprecedented act meant to help voters avoid breathing the same air in precincts as COVID-19 spread.

    Georgia’s no-excuse absentee voting rules were approved in 2005. Then as now, the GOP held the governor’s office and both legislative chambers.

    The widespread acceptance of absentee ballots in Georgia’s presidential election is fueling unfounded accusations of widespread election fraud. Those are roundly dismissed by Raffensperger, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr and U.S. Attorney General William Barr – all Republicans. And the vast majority of 50-odd lawsuits filed on Trump’s behalf that allege fraud have been rejected or withdrawn.

    A GOP lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court also takes aim at the state’s ballot drop box policies. The Republican National Committee and the Georgia Republican Party want county election offices to do more to secure ballot drop boxes and allow monitors to stand close to poll workers.

    The lawsuit claims that the drop box ballot collection, approved early in the pandemic as part of a state election emergency order, breaks Georgia’s law because they’re available around-the-clock.

    “While we continue to fight multiple cases of election irregularities from the general election, we also must fight to ensure they never happen again,” RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said. “Election laws need to be properly followed so Americans can have confidence in the results. This lawsuit seeks to force Georgia election officials to simply follow the laws on their books as they pertain to poll watchers and drop boxes.”

    Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University, said it’s an odd argument that drop boxes open after business hours violate the law. 

    “That’s just a frivolous theory that takes the most strained, tortured reading of the Georgia code in order to make it harder to vote,” Kreis said.

    A state House committee is also focused on the Jan. 5 runoffs pitting Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler against Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock and GOP Sen. David Perdue against Democrat Jon Ossoff. 

    This Thursday, the House Governmental Affairs Committee scheduled a virtual meeting about election integrity in the Jan. 5 runoff and beyond.

    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.