Georgia lawmakers have introduced more than 20 bills seeking to curtail voting rights this year, including legislation the Senate passed 29-20 today that would repeal no-excuse absentee voting for the vast majority of the state’s voters.
The new bill would require voters to be absent from their precinct, have a physical disability or care for someone with one, observe a religious holiday, be unable to go to the polls because of their job, be at least 65 years old, or be covered by military absentee voting protections in order to get an absentee ballot. It also establishes ID requirements for requesting an absentee ballot, further complicating the requirements to receive one.
NEW: Republicans in the Georgia Senate narrowly approved SB 241, an omnibus voting bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting 16 years after Republicans first enacted it. #gapol— stephen fowler (@stphnfwlr) March 8, 2021
29-20 vote includes 4 Republicans that didn't vote.https://t.co/BH9OAYjxnS
As Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB) reports, “some of the most controversial measures now on the table would overturn provisions that Republicans introduced more than 15 years ago — over Democratic objections — and that have guided state elections ever since.” The state’s no-excuse absentee voting that Republicans now want to repeal, for example, was part of the 2005 legislative package which originally allowed vote by mail without excuse or ID.
No-excuse absentee voting can expand access to the ballot for people who may have trouble finding time to vote in person because of their job, their dependents, or health issues. While detractors point to the potential for fraud or coercion with this type of voting, there is little evidence that these claims are true. According to the New York Times, “in states that have long embraced mail-in voting ... those running elections see no evidence of widespread fraud.” In Georgia, an audit by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office of one major Georgia county found zero cases of fraud among the roughly 15,000 absentee ballots reviewed.
But the debate has become unmoored entirely from the potential costs and benefits of the system to voters and election integrity and largely hinges on a political question: Do you accept that former President Donald Trump fairly lost the 2020 presidential election?
GPB notes that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Republican Party chairman David Shafer were originally in favor of no-excuse absentee voting, but now Shafer has rescinded his support. Kemp strongly endorses adding photo ID requirements and is “reserving judgment” on a litany of other measures that would raise the bar for ballot access, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Republicans appear to have made this about-face following Trump’s loss and subsequent attempts to overturn the election results; now they’re seizing on it to enact restrictive voting legislation. Morning Consult’s polling shows that only 32 percent of registered Republicans believe the 2020 presidential election was “probably” or “definitely” free and fair. Importantly, a lot of this might be reflecting whether or not respondents are happy with the result of the election. On November 1, only 52 percent of registered Democrats said they believed the election was free and fair — 8 days later, following Biden’s victory, that number jumped nearly 40 points.
Georgia isn’t alone in seeking to make changes to its electoral system — according to the Brennan Center, “253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access” have been proposed in 43 states. On the flip side, House Democrats have passed House Resolution 1, a massive democracy reform bill that, among other things, expands voting rights. One of its key voting provisions, as Vox’s Ella Nilsen reports, would prohibit “states from restricting a person’s ability to vote by mail.”
But the bill appears dead on arrival in a divided Senate where at least 10 Republicans would need to support it to overcome an inevitable filibuster. Otherwise, political observers expect many of Georgia’s voting restrictions to pass into law, evidence that what Democrats call Trump’s “big lie” will affect elections far into the future.