Opinion: Pushing hard to maintain voting rights

July 20, 2020 Atlanta: Early voting for Georgia’s runoff elections began Monday, including at a giant polling place on the Atlanta Hawks’ home court, State Farm Arena (shown here). The runoffs will decide races left unsettled after last month’s primaries, including for the U.S. House of Representatives, Fulton County district attorney, the Georgia General Assembly and superior courts. Three weeks of in-person early voting is available across Georgia, but the biggest voting site in state history is inside State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. The arena, equipped with 100 voting stations, is designed to ease long lines and provide a central location available to any of Fulton’s 814,000 registered voters. Eighteen other early voting sites are also available in Fulton. The arena transformed into a voting site after some voters waited for hours to cast their ballots in June because of social distancing requirements, precinct closures, poll worker shortages and difficulties operating Georgia’s new voting equipment. Election officials say they’re making changes to avoid similar problems again. They’re improving poll worker training, identifying overcrowded precincts and adding tech support staff at voting locations. After record turnout in the June 9 primary, with nearly 2.4 million voters, fewer people are expected to participate in the runoff. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM
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July 20, 2020 Atlanta: Early voting for Georgia’s runoff elections began Monday, including at a giant polling place on the Atlanta Hawks’ home court, State Farm Arena (shown here). The runoffs will decide races left unsettled after last month’s primaries, including for the U.S. House of Representatives, Fulton County district attorney, the Georgia General Assembly and superior courts. Three weeks of in-person early voting is available across Georgia, but the biggest voting site in state history is inside State Farm Arena in downtown Atlanta. The arena, equipped with 100 voting stations, is designed to ease long lines and provide a central location available to any of Fulton’s 814,000 registered voters. Eighteen other early voting sites are also available in Fulton. The arena transformed into a voting site after some voters waited for hours to cast their ballots in June because of social distancing requirements, precinct closures, poll worker shortages and difficulties operating Georgia’s new voting equipment. Election officials say they’re making changes to avoid similar problems again. They’re improving poll worker training, identifying overcrowded precincts and adding tech support staff at voting locations. After record turnout in the June 9 primary, with nearly 2.4 million voters, fewer people are expected to participate in the runoff. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

I remain steadfast in my belief that voter confidence is paramount. The problem is, the legislative steps Georgia Republicans have taken do not address voter confidence, but rather voter access.

In March of 2019, Georgia was considering a $100 million taxpayer-funded investment in a new voting system which would be used for the next decade, if not longer. Following the 2018 midterm elections, our state had to confront the inadequacy of our 20-year-old voting machines that did not allow for a hand recount, among other things.

My position – that hand-marked paper ballots with optical scanners were the best choice – was supported by state and national experts, including then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s own hand-picked cybersecurity expert, Dr. Wenke Lee.

My opposition to Georgia’s decision to purchase a wildly expensive new voting system, against the advice of experts, has not changed. And I would welcome the opportunity to work across the aisle to improve transparency and security in the system that my Republican colleagues vociferously supported, defended and voted for in 2019.

Elena Parent
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Elena Parent

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Until 2020, Georgia Republicans had won every presidential election since 1996, and have controlled all three branches of the state government since 2005. The laws and processes that govern our elections were devised and championed by the same Republicans who hold positions of power in our government to this day.

That these Republicans have realized that the process they created could be improved is a positive development. The motives behind this shift, however, are transparently insincere and opportunistic. Democrats will not have words, out of context, twisted to support a new narrative.

There was no widespread fraud in Georgia’s recent elections. Three recounts, including a hand recount, demonstrated that definitively. Georgia voters made their voices heard in November, and again in January. Now, the Georgia Republican Party is doing everything in its power to maintain its grip on state government.

My position has not changed. I remain steadfast in my belief that voter confidence is paramount. The problem is, the legislative steps Georgia Republicans have taken do not address voter confidence, but rather voter access.

If the GOP was truly concerned about confidence, they would be moving to create a more transparent process. Steps we could take include sponsoring voter education and outreach, requiring audits of any races that go into a recount, eliminating QR codes on ballots and moving to OCR technology, and offering hand-marked paper ballots to in-person voters.

On the contrary, the steps Republicans have taken are laser-focused on restricting access to the ballot box and making it more difficult for the people of our state to make their voices heard. They continue to trot out discredited and disproven accusations of voter fraud to justify these steps, thereby further undermining voter confidence in a cynical attempt to make it easier to reject and overturn the next electoral outcome that does not go in their favor.

Public trust cannot and will not be restored in our election system by striking at the very heart of democracy – by chipping away at what the word “democracy” means and who it includes. In 2020, Georgia voters participated in the electoral process in record-breaking numbers. In large part, their turnout was due to both the legislature and federal courts recognizing and then dismantling barriers to the ballot box after the 2018 elections.

Rather than changing their platform in order to persuade voters with the power of their ideas, Georgia Republicans are now trying to change the electorate.

State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, represents District 42.