Bills to limit Georgia voting access reach legislative endgame

Republican Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega right, speaks with Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, as Miller presides over the Senate during a debate on Senate Bill 241, a major election bill, during Crossover Day on Monday. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Republican Sen. Steve Gooch of Dahlonega right, speaks with Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, as Miller presides over the Senate during a debate on Senate Bill 241, a major election bill, during Crossover Day on Monday. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A series of proposed voting restrictions will be considered in the final days of Georgia’s legislative session, including bills to end no-excuse absentee voting and limit weekend voting.

Efforts to tighten Georgia’s election rules don’t end there. Legislators are also considering measures that would further curtail the availability of absentee and early voting.

In all, 12 bills survived Monday’s deadline for legislation to clear either the House or the Senate, but there’s little overlap between the election initiatives sought by each legislative chamber.

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Providing the facts and context that help readers understand the current debate over voting laws is a priority for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For a better understanding of the issues driving Legislative action, click on these links.

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The main issue that both representatives and senators agree on is a plan to require more ID from absentee voters. They would have to provide a driver’s license number, state ID number or copy of other identifying documents.

Other voting proposals will now be scrutinized by different legislators with their own priorities. It might not be clear which bills will pass until the General Assembly takes final votes on March 31.

Voting rights advocates said Georgia lawmakers should refrain from passing bills that would create hurdles for voters.

Former President Jimmy Carter also urged state legislators to preserve access to absentee voting, describing himself Tuesday as “disheartened, saddened and angry” about bills filed in response to last year’s presidential election, the first one a Republican had lost in Georgia since 1992.

“Many of the proposed changes are reactions to allegations of fraud for which no evidence was produced — allegations that were, in fact, refuted through various audits, recounts and other measures,” said Carter, a Democrat. “The proposed changes appear to be rooted in partisan interests, not in the interests of all Georgia voters.”

The Senate’s bills reflect the goals of majority Republican legislators who want to make changes after last year’s presidential election. The Senate’s most comprehensive measure, Senate Bill 241, goes beyond requiring an excuse and ID for absentee voting.

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The legislation would also create a hotline to the attorney general’s office to report election irregularities, ban Fulton County’s early voting buses except for emergencies, give the General Assembly the power to throw out emergency election policies set by the State Election Board, and require county election officials to continuously count ballots until they’re finished, even if it takes days.

A series of smaller bills also passed the Senate. Those measures allow poll watchers into ballot tabulation areas, call for state intervention in low-performing county election offices, and mandate monthly reports of voters who died so that their registrations can be quickly canceled.

“We encourage all citizens to practice their civic duty, and in return, it is our responsibility to ensure public confidence and trust in the system, ensuring our rights are protected,” the Georgia Senate Republican Caucus, led by Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the omnibus House legislation deals more with voting hours and election funding. These proposals in House Bill 531 seek greater election uniformity across Georgia in ways that could favor rural Republican counties over urban Democratic areas.

ExploreLive: Track major Georgia bills

For example, weekend voting would be limited to two days — the second Saturday of early voting and either the first Saturday or first Sunday. Currently, several highly populated counties have multiple weekend early voting days, while small counties have just one.

The bill would also prohibit outside funding of county election offices, which benefited mostly medium and large counties that wanted money to handle an increase in absentee ballots, buy personal protective gear and pay poll workers. Organizations such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life, funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, gave over $20 million to county election offices in Georgia last year.

In addition, the House legislation would move ballot drop boxes inside early voting locations, set the deadline to request an absentee ballot 11 days before an election, disqualify provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and ban free food and drinks for voters waiting in line.

Several other bills failed to advance, such as measures that would have banned all ballot drop boxes and eliminated automatic voter registration when Georgians get driver’s licenses.

Bills pending in the General Assembly

  • House Bill 531: Would require absentee ID, restrict drop boxes, limit early voting hours
  • Senate Bill 241: Would require absentee ID and eliminate no-excuse absentee voting
  • Senate Bill 40: Would require counties to begin processing absentee ballots eight days before election day
  • Senate Bill 62: Would label each ballot with the name of its precinct
  • Senate Bill 67: Would require absentee ID
  • Senate Bill 72: Seeks monthly updates on voters who have died
  • Senate Bill 74: Would allow poll watchers into ballot tabulation areas
  • Senate Bill 89: Would permit the State Election Board to take over low-performing county election offices
  • Senate Bill 184: Would require records of who voted to be updated within 30 days after an election
  • Senate Bill 188: Would prevent the public release of election results until the total number of ballots cast is posted on the secretary of state’s website
  • Senate Bill 202: Would prohibit organizations from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who have already requested a ballot
  • Senate Bill 253: Would require a 4-foot-by-4-foot sign posted at polling places that have been moved

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