This article was written by Krista Brewer for Political Peach.
After a November election and the January runoff, with historic turnouts and no widespread problems, the Georgia legislature is now considering a plethora of laws that will significantly impact access to voting, and possibly hamper the smooth running of elections.
For a good summary of the pending bills that would restrict voting, and a helpful list of committee members where these bills will be considered, see the recent issue from our friends at Galvanize. You might want to tell these legislators, and the ones who represent your district, just what you think.
The bill that is currently getting a lot of attention will require absentee ballot users to have not one, but two copies of a Georgia issued photo ID: one copy when requesting an absentee ballot and another when sending in the actual ballot. It’s been dubbed the Kinko’s bill. Many voters, especially older, infirm, or homebound voters may not have easy access to a copier or printer.
But let’s take a step back. Georgia does not have a perfect election system, but we do have a number of features that are considered markers of good election administration. These include: early voting and a required Saturday voting; automatic voter registration via the department of driver services; on-line voter registration via the secretary of state’s website; and no-excuse absentee voting. While Georgia was one of the first states to adopt a photo ID requirement, which certainly keeps some people from voting, the list of acceptable ID is more expansive than some of the states that later implemented a photo ID requirement.
A recent improvement to our voting system is that we now have a paper record of everyone’s votes due to new Dominion voting machines. This allows a higher confidence in the results because we can conduct real recounts, perform sample audits of the paper voting records. The Dominion machines, called ballot marking devices or BMDs have been soundly maligned by many who prefer hand-marked paper ballots. While the BMDs had a rocky rollout in the June primaries, they performed pretty well during the general and numerous special and runoff elections. Indeed, the majority of problems with ballots came from those that were hand marked, including late arriving ballots, signature match issues, rejection by scanners for various reasons, not to mention the massive logistical issues of handling so many paper ballots.
In fact, Georgia’s secretary of state almost went overboard after the recent presidential election to verify accurate results. He first ordered a full hand-recount using the paper ballots. Then, because the results were within 0.5 percent, Trump was legally allowed to request a recount. This was done by adding the results of the scanners, duplicating the way we have done recounts in the past. Also, a review of the signature match process was conducted in Fulton County. All of these checks revealed no widespread discrepancies. Georgia has the ability in future elections to conduct random sample audits to constantly check for irregularities.
Many election administrators across the state have noted that because of the huge increase in absentee voting, they were required to essentially run three separate voting systems: absentee mail-in ballots; early voting; and election day in precincts. Then they had to manage the subsequent recounts and runoffs. Before the legislature starts making wholesale changes, especially to restrict mail-in voting, it should wait until the pandemic subsides. It’s likely that the number of mail-in voting will decrease as people become more comfortable voting in person, and gain confidence in the Dominion machines.
Unfortunately, Georgia is not unique in this rush to suppress votes. According to a report by the Brennan Center, “In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced well over four times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to roughly this time last year. Thirty-three states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over 165 restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in fifteen states on February 3, 2020).” It seems Georgia is doing its part to help with proposing restrictive bills designed to make it harder to vote.
Long-time voter rights advocate Helen Butler, executive director of the Coalition of the People’s Agenda observes, “These bills are in search of a problem. Historically, African Americans didn’t trust absentee voting. They wanted to go to vote in person. Absentee was mostly used by Republicans. But this year, because of covid it wasn’t safe to vote in person. So people began using it during covid and the Republicans got upset about it. The new legislation is not solving a problem. In fact it’s trying to make it more difficult to access the ballot.”
Voting advocates and attorneys are warning the Georgia legislature that some of these bills will end up being challenged in court. “Depending upon the final content of bills that are signed into law by Governor Kemp, there may be grounds for legal challenges under state or federal law, including constitutional challenges or claims arising under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or the National Voter Registration Act,” observes Julie Houk, Managing Counsel for the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly touted no-excuse absentee voting and other aspects of Georgia’s existing election law and procedures as “the gold standard,” yet some Georgia legislators have apparently bought into the now debunked claims by President Trump of massive voter fraud. After Georgia saw record turnout in this past election cycle, these bills will suppress the vote, rather than achieve any legitimate public policy goals. It would be a shame to take steps back with these regressive voting bills,” she added.
Finally, on an episode of Political Rewind podcast last month, Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) was asked about the push to roll back voting rights. Rep. Smyre is the longest serving African American and often called the dean of the General Assembly because of the respect other members feel for him. He is usually calm and soft spoken . But just hear what he had to say starting at the 43 minute mark. It’s worth a listen and hints at what the Georgia Republicans are up against in their efforts to restrict voting rights.
About the Author
Krista Brewer is a native Atlantan who has a professional background in writing, reporting and editing. For several decades she has closely followed Georgia politics, focusing on topics such as healthcare, voting and immigrant rights, and budget and environmental issues. She is active on Twitter and invites readers to follow her @KristaRBrewer