Capitol Recap: Black Georgians will feel most impact from absentee voter ID law

Courtney Brown of College Park holds her Georgia driver's license. Brown's driver's license is not on file with election officials, meaning she would have to submit additional documentation, such as a utility bill or bank statement, to to cast an absentee ballot, according to Georgia’s new voting law. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Caption
Courtney Brown of College Park holds her Georgia driver's license. Brown's driver's license is not on file with election officials, meaning she would have to submit additional documentation, such as a utility bill or bank statement, to to cast an absentee ballot, according to Georgia’s new voting law. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

More than half of voters who lack ID live in metro areas

In future elections, more than 272,000 Georgia voters may have to provide additional documents — maybe a utility bill or a bank statement — to cast an absentee ballot because they don’t have a driver’s license or state ID on file with election officials.

The new ID requirement — just one element of Senate Bill 202, the sweeping election law that Republicans pushed through the General Assembly this year — would have a disproportionate impact on the state’s Black voters and residents of areas where Georgia Democrats now hold an electoral edge.

Overall, about 3.5% of Georgia’s 7.8 million registered voters are missing a driver’s license or state ID number, according to records obtained from the secretary of state’s office under Georgia’s open records law.

About 56% of the registered voters who lack ID are Black, even though they account for only 30% of the state’s electorate, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The impact will be greatest in metropolitan areas that generally support Democratic Party candidates. Over half of the registered voters who lack ID — 155,000 — live in Chatham, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Muscogee counties.

Under Senate Bill 202, voters will have to provide a driver’s license or state ID number when requesting an absentee ballot, and those who don’t will have to submit some other form of identification.

Acceptable forms of identification, in addition to the previously mentioned utility bills and bank statements, include a copy of a passport, military ID or a government-issued check. Free voter ID cards are also available at county election offices and through the Department of Driver Services.

In previous years, election workers verified absentee voters’ identities by comparing their signatures, addresses and registration information.

Not having an ID on record is not the same as not having an ID. The secretary of state’s office says voters could be listed in error as not having the ID if they obtained or renewed their driver’s license before September 2016, when Georgia started automatically registering voters at driver’s license offices. Before then, the Department of Driver Services didn’t submit voters’ information to election officials unless they asked to be registered.

Voter registration applications submitted through the mail — rather than online or at driver’s license offices — also might not be associated with an ID number.

The secretary of state’s office plans to soon update voter registration records to include more ID numbers based on information provided by the Department of Driver Services. Rough estimates indicate that 80,000 of the 272,000 voters currently listed as lacking ID will have an ID number added to their registrations.

SB 202′s supporters say the new identification requirements will be more objective than signature verification, reducing the chances of absentee ballots being submitted by someone other than the voters who requested them.

Critics say the restrictions will make it harder to vote by mail after a GBI investigation of voter signatures on 15,000 absentee ballot envelopes in Cobb County failed to find a single instance of fraud.

Legislators could face small window for redistricting

The General Assembly could be facing a tight turnaround this fall when it begins the redistricting process.

State officials do not expect expanded data from the U.S. Census Bureau before Sept. 30 at the earliest.

That doesn’t give legislators much time to turn that data into legislative and congressional district maps, persuade both chambers of the Legislature during a special session to approve their work and then send it to the governor’s desk.

Especially if those legislators want to meet a separate deadline that could be vital to some of their lawmaking careers: Nov. 8.

Nov. 8, marking exactly one year until the 2022 general election, is also the last day that a legislative candidate can change his or her residency from one district to another. (Congressional candidates don’t have to live in the district they represent.)

If that deadline is missed, a lawmaker who has been drawn out of his or her district will not be able to relocate in time to run in 2022.

Republicans close to the process say it’s possible to get the work done by Nov. 8 but not certain.

A hearing is set for Thursday in a lawsuit seeking the return of Major League Baseball's All-Star game to Truist Park. In response to Georgia's new voting law, MLB in April relocated the game to Denver. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Caption
A hearing is set for Thursday in a lawsuit seeking the return of Major League Baseball's All-Star game to Truist Park. In response to Georgia's new voting law, MLB in April relocated the game to Denver. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Lawsuit seeks return of baseball All-Star game to Atlanta

A Texas-based conservative small-business advocacy group called Job Creators Network is seeking the return of Major League Baseball’s All-Star game to Atlanta, as well as $100 million in damages to be awarded to local and state small businesses.

The suit — which names MLB, the MLB Players Association, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred and MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark as defendants — also asks for $1 billion in punitive damages.

MLB announced April 2 that it would move the All-Star game, which was scheduled for Truist Park, out of Georgia in response to the state’s new voting law, Senate Bill 202. It later awarded the July 13 event to Denver.

Manfred said at the time of the decision that moving the game was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport.”

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said.

Alfredo Ortiz, the president and CEO of the Job Creators Network, said in a statement that “MLB robbed the small businesses of Atlanta — many of them minority-owned — of $100 million, we want the game back where it belongs.”

“This was a knee-jerk, hypocritical and illegal reaction to misinformation about Georgia’s new voting law which includes Voter-ID,” Ortiz said.

The lawsuit contends that, in moving the game, MLB “acted beyond any plausible legitimate civic or moral concern affecting the integrity of the sport of baseball” and “intended to punish Georgians because their state enacted a reasonable ballot-integrity statute.”

Citing more than 8,000 canceled hotel reservation, the suit describes the financial losses in metro Atlanta as “staggering.” Economist, however, debate the financial impact of all-star games and other high-profile spots events and call figures like the stated $100 million loss of business an exaggeration.

A hearing is set for Thursday.

Alarm sounds where ballots are stored, setting off investigation

The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office has launched an investigation after a security alarm went off at a warehouse containing ballots from the presidential election.

Private security guards, hired by election skeptics, then entered the building through an unlocked door to investigate.

The security guards didn’t find anyone inside, and it’s unclear what triggered a motion sensor alarm in area of the warehouse separate from where the ballots are stored.

The ballots remained secure within a locked area with its own secondary alarm system, county officials said.

“I am 3,000% confident and understand that the ballots are secure,” Fulton Sheriff Pat Labat said. “There is no question about that.”

The incident occurred as plaintiffs in a lawsuit are seeking to inspect 147,000 absentee ballots for counterfeits after Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump in the state by about 12,000 votes.

Election officials have repeatedly said there’s no sign of significant fraud after three ballot counts and an audit of voter signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, but Trump and his followers continue to claim that the election was stolen.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, Bob Cheeley, said Tuesday that he hired security guards to watch the warehouse after a judge last month allowed a future ballot review. Fulton is seeking to dismiss the case.

Cheeley said Fulton sheriff’s deputies left their patrol of the warehouse Saturday afternoon when their shift ended, before the alarm went off, even though he says the county had told the judge it would keep deputies stationed at the warehouse 24 hours a day.

“I’m really concerned about their lackadaisical attitude toward security, particularly leaving the building unlocked,” Cheeley said.

If the ballot inspection moves forward, Fulton County would scan high-resolution images of absentee ballots and then turn them over to the plaintiffs. Original ballots would remain in government custody.

Superior Court Judge Brian Amero plans to consider motions to dismiss the case later this month.

Democrats could focus on Greene as midterm strategy

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene could be the face of the Republican Party if Democrats have their way.

Democrats are hoping they can defend their slim majority in Congress by tying the lawmaker from Rome to the larger GOP, according to The Hill.

“I think that she is providing a huge opportunity in the absence of Trump to be a sticking point and a foil for Democrats in campaigns,” Democratic pollster Molly Murphy told The Hill. “All she stands for and represents is a walking depiction of where this Republican Party is going. And I think Democrats would be wise to invoke her and where she is trying to take that party.”

Greene has only been in office since January but has already made a splash.

In February, Democrats and 11 Republicans voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments over comments she made and actions she took, including confronting a teenage school shooting survivor, spreading baseless QAnon conspiracy theories, “liking” social media posts that called for the execution of U.S. House leaders and making statements that were racist, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic.

She followed that recently by comparing the use of masks as protection against the coronavirus to the Holocaust, drawing rebukes from her own party’s leadership in the U.S. House.

Greene is likely to tell Democrats to bring it on.

She has proved effective in converting controversy into campaign checks, taking in $3.2 million in the first quarter of the year to rank among the top fundraisers in the U.S. House.

Change ahead for state NAACP

The Georgia NAACP is seeking a new leader now that the Rev. James Woodall is stepping down.

Woodall has led the group through a busy time, notching a few wins and losses.

The NAACP opposed many of the changes in state election laws under Senate Bill 202. But with Woodall at the helm, the civil rights organization also helped gain passage of a new state hate-crimes law and the repeal of Georgia’s Civil War-era citizen’s arrest statute.

In a statement on Twitter, Woodall also pointed to the state NAACP’s success in raising more than $2 million under his leadership and that much of the money had been “re-invested” in grassroots activity.

“The work was not always attractive, and we had some painful moments as well as some life-changing wins,” Woodall wrote. “But in the end, we did what we were called to do in this moment, and for that, I am forever grateful.”

State Rep. David Clark of Buford, who has had a number of run-ins with House Speaker David Ralston, a fellow Republican, has announced he will not seek reelection in 2022.
Caption
State Rep. David Clark of Buford, who has had a number of run-ins with House Speaker David Ralston, a fellow Republican, has announced he will not seek reelection in 2022.

Ralston foe won’t seek reelection

State Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, has announced he will not seek reelection in 2022.

“Who?” you might ask.

Kaleb McMichen did, although it’s doubtful he meant it.

McMichen is the spokesman for state House Speaker David Ralston, who had a number of run-ins with Clark during the Gwinnett County lawmaker’s six years in the General Assembly.

In 2019, Clark led a group of Republicans who asked the speaker, their party’s leader in the House, to step down after an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found that Ralston, a lawyer from Blue Ridge, frequently delayed criminal cases by claiming court dates interfered with his legislative duties.

Last year, Clark challenged Ralston for the speakership, a bid that went down in flames when the Republican caucus voted 90-2 to keep the guy they had in charge.

The two clashed again this year when Clark refused to be tested for COVID-19, as all House members were required to do during the legislative session. Ralston responded by having Clark removed from the House chamber. Two days later, Clark agreed to be tested.

Clark announced his exit both by tweet and in a statement to the AJC, saying “politics is not meant to be a career.”

He also remained defiant, pledging to continue “being a voice for the voiceless by holding the powerful accountable and continuing to call out corruption.”

A U.S. Air Force photo shows an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, receiving fuel from a KC-135 tanker plane in 2004. The JSTARS based at Robins Air Force Base are being phased out, but President Joe Biden has identified new missions for personnel at the military installation. (U.S. Air Force via The New York Times)
Caption
A U.S. Air Force photo shows an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, receiving fuel from a KC-135 tanker plane in 2004. The JSTARS based at Robins Air Force Base are being phased out, but President Joe Biden has identified new missions for personnel at the military installation. (U.S. Air Force via The New York Times)

Biden budget gives Robins new missions

There’s good news for Robins Air Force Base in President Joe Biden’s 2022 budget.

The base will be saying goodbye to the Joint Surveillance Target and Attack System, or JSTARS, which is being phased out. But four new advanced surveillance missions will take its place.

The news settles a years-long debate about what to do with the aging JSTARS program.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, whose district includes Robins, told WMAZ-TV in Macon that the new missions will allow the 2,000 or so active-duty and Georgia Air National Guard personnel to remain at Robins as the work shifts from the JSTARs program to the newer space-based surveillance systems.

Candidates, endorsements, etc.:

— Georgia Revenue Commissioner David Curry has entered the race to replace U.S. Rep. Jody Hice in Congress. Curry — a former union industrial electrician at Ford Motor Co. and Henry County’s tax commissioner for about a decade before Gov. Brian Kemp named him as revenue commissioner in May 2019 — joins a crowded field of Republicans in the 10th Congressional District contest. Other contenders for the seat are Mike Collins, who narrowly lost to Hice in 2014; state Rep. Timothy Barr, former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun; and wealthy demolition man Matt Richards. Hice is giving up the seat to run for secretary of state.