Absentee voting ID bill clears Georgia Senate committee

The Georgia Senate Ethics Committee voted Thursday to require a state ID number or copy of photo ID when voters request absentee ballots. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

The Georgia Senate Ethics Committee voted Thursday to require a state ID number or copy of photo ID when voters request absentee ballots. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

Georgia voters would be required to include their driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of photo ID when requesting an absentee ballot, according to a bill approved by a Senate committee on Thursday.

The proposal for more rigorous absentee ballot ID requirements passed the Senate Ethics Committee on a 7-4 vote along party lines. Senate Bill 67 could reach the full Senate for a vote next week.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would create obstacles for voters seeking to cast absentee ballots, especially those who lack a driver’s license or state ID card.

But state Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican from Perry, said concerns about voter privacy are outweighed by the importance of safeguarding elections.

“We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of legitimate people voting, but I think it’s so important that we have security in the vote,” said Walker, the bill’s sponsor. “There are instances in the small minority of the people that they’re going to have to make a little effort if they do not have a government-issued ID to provide some other form of identification.”

State Sen. Ed Harbison, a Democrat from Columbus, said he’s worried about the potential for identity theft if voters have to submit personal information through the mail with their absentee ballot applications.

“I think you’re trying to cure a problem in your mind,” Harbison said. “The truth of the matter is, I think you’re opening that privacy door.”

Georgia voters already must submit a driver’s license number when requesting an absentee ballot online, but there’s no ID requirement for paper absentee ballot application forms. In-person voters must show photo ID.

The legislation doesn’t require additional ID when returning absentee ballots, only when requesting them.

Senators amended the bill Thursday to end verification of voter signatures on absentee ballot requests, saying signature matching would no longer be necessary if voters must provide a form of ID.

Four other election bills also passed the Senate Ethics Committee on Thursday:

  • A chief elections assistance officer within the secretary of state’s office would be responsible for intervening in low-performing county election offices, according to Senate Bill 89. The State Election Board would be empowered to replace county election superintendents if problems aren’t corrected.
  • Election workers would be required to open and scan absentee ballots starting eight days before election day under Senate Bill 40. Vote counts couldn’t be reported until after polls close on election day.
  • Records showing who voted in each election would have to be finalized within 30 days after an election, according to Senate Bill 184.
  • No election results could be reported until county election officials publicize how many total ballots have been received, according to Senate Bill 188.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said he supported the package of bills seeking IDs with ballot requests, absentee ballot processing, voting records and ballot reporting on election night.

“I committed that I would only support commonsense election reforms and would work to modernize our election procedures to keep pace with changes in the way Georgians vote — and most importantly maintain confidence in our electoral process by making it easy to vote and difficult to cheat,” Duncan said.

The committee didn’t consider another bill that would have ended no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia. Senate Bill 71, which passed a subcommittee on Wednesday, would limit absentee voting to people who are over 75, have a physical disability or are out of town.