Contrasts on voting laws and ballot access define Georgia candidates

Republicans and Democrats split on election issues
Voters encountered short lines and limited problems as election day got underway at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Monday, May 25, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Voters encountered short lines and limited problems as election day got underway at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Monday, May 25, 2022. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

When it comes to voting rights, Georgia’s top candidates align along party lines, with Democrats promoting ways to make it easier to cast a ballot and Republicans standing behind new state laws that tightened election rules.

That divide is especially evident in the race for governor, where Republican incumbent Brian Kemp trumpets “election integrity” and Democrat Stacey Abrams attacks “systematic barriers.”

With the field set for the November election following this summer’s primaries and runoffs, democracy and voting are among the top issues in upcoming campaigns for governor, the U.S. Senate, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.

Governor

Voting rights were a focal point in the first race between Abrams, who built her reputation on fighting for increased ballot access, and Kemp, who served as secretary of state for eight years. Four years later, their rematch has reignited the debate.

As governor, Kemp’s most significant election policy action came last year when he signed into law Georgia’s voting bill, surrounded by Republican lawmakers at the Capitol as police arrested Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon after she knocked on his door.

The voting measure restricted absentee ballot drop boxes, imposed additional ID requirements to vote absentee, created a process for state takeovers of county election boards, and banned distributing food and water to voters in line. Republicans in the General Assembly said they passed the bill to restore voter confidence in elections after President Donald Trump lost and blamed it on fraud, which many of his supporters believed despite a lack of evidence.

In Georgia's race for governor, Democrat Stacey Abrams has proposed allowing voter registration as late as election day, providing government-paid postage for absentee ballots, and counting absentee ballots as long as they’re postmarked by election day. Republican incumbent Brian Kemp has touted his signing of what he calls the "strongest election integrity law in the country." It restricted absentee ballot drop boxes, imposed additional ID requirements to vote absentee, created a process for state takeovers of county election boards, and banned the distribution of food and water to voters in line. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton).

Credit: Stephen B. Morton / AJC

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton / AJC

“Gov. Kemp has a long record of fighting for secure, accessible, fair elections,” said Tate Mitchell, a spokesman for Kemp’s campaign. “He is proud to have signed and championed the strongest election integrity law in the country.”

In the last campaign, Abrams often accused Kemp of undermining fair elections by enforcing strict voting policies when he was in charge of Georgia’s elections, especially by canceling hundreds of thousands of voter registrations either because the voters had moved or didn’t participate in elections for several years.

This year, Abrams’ voting platform includes proposals to allow voter registration as late as election day, provide government-paid postage for absentee ballots, and count absentee ballots as long as they’re postmarked by election day.

Under current Georgia law, voters must be registered at least 29 days before an election, pay their own postage costs and mail ballots with enough time to ensure they’re received at county election offices by election day.

“Every eligible Georgian should have the ability to register to vote, to cast a ballot and to have that ballot properly recorded — without systematic barriers,” according to Abrams’ website. “As governor, I will prioritize voting rights as essential to democracy and effective government.”

U.S. Senate

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock prioritizes several election bills he’s supporting in Congress, partially in response to Georgia’s voting law.

Warnock is pushing to prevent state election takeovers and protect election officials from harassment, ensure voting rights for felons who have served their sentences, and restore federal oversight of state election policies by strengthening the federal Voting Rights Act.

A spokeswoman for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, left, says he would defend Georgia’s voting laws and build public confidence in elections. Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock is pushing to prevent state election takeovers and protect election officials from harassment, ensure voting rights for felons who have served their sentences, and restore federal oversight of state election policies by strengthening the federal Voting Rights Act.

Credit: File photos

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Credit: File photos

“After the 2020 election, our state became ground zero for voter suppression,” according to Warnock’s website. “With partisan gerrymandering, long lines in minority communities, polling place closures and voter purges, the state of Georgia has followed every strategy in the voter suppression playbook.”

Voter registrations have boomed since Georgia started automatically signing up voters at driver’s license offices in 2016, from 6.6 million to 7.7 million, but Democrats say the state’s voting laws make it more difficult for voters to participate in elections.

Republican challenger Herschel Walker would defend Georgia’s laws and build public confidence in elections, spokeswoman Mallory Blount said.

“Herschel has heard from voters across the state who were concerned with the 2020 election. Luckily, Georgia was able to act to restore trust in elections with SB 202,” Blount said, referring to the state election law that Kemp signed. “Warnock wants the federal government to run state elections; Herschel wants Georgia voters to be able to confidently exercise their constitutional right to make their voices heard at the polls.”

Lieutenant governor

Republican state Sen. Burt Jones was a member of Georgia’s phony slate of GOP electors who met in the Capitol to try to cast the state’s electoral votes for Trump instead of Democrat Joe Biden, who won by about 12,000 votes.

His opponent, Democrat Charlie Bailey, said Jones attempted to subvert democracy.

“The only danger to safe and secure elections is people like Burt Jones, who come in and substitute their will for the will of the voters and try to overturn the election,” Bailey said.

Bailey opposes Georgia’s voting law, wants to make election day a holiday and supports allowing voter registration on election day.

Jones’ campaign has said Bailey’s attacks are politically motivated. An investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who hosted a fundraiser for Bailey, has identified Jones as a target.

Jones would prioritize “restoring voter confidence by securing our elections” and seek a “full, statewide investigation” of the 2020 election, according to his website.

Repeated recounts and investigations have upheld the outcome of the presidential election.

Secretary of state

With broad authority over Georgia elections, secretary of state is one of the most consequential positions on the ballot. The secretary of state serves as the state’s chief elections officer, responsible for overseeing state laws, implementing election policies and certifying results.

Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger famously resisted Trump’s pressure to alter the results of the presidential election, and he’s now focusing on proposals to prevent the future possibility of noncitizen voting, oppose new federal election laws and increase removals of ineligible voters from the state’s voter rolls.

“Only Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger stood up to Stacey Abrams, ACLU and other liberal groups in court,” according to his website. “When liberals fought in court to undermine election laws such as extending the absentee ballot deadline and ending the signature match requirement, the secretary fought and won.”

Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen is telling voters that “Brad is not our friend” because he supports ending no-excuse absentee voting, eliminating automatic voter registration and upholding the state’s voting law.

“It’s true that Brad did the bare minimum by not breaking the law in 2020. But upholding results is the bare minimum we need from a leader who oversees our elections,” Nguyen wrote in a campaign email. “His extreme views are at odds with the majority of Georgians.”

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