GOP senators say they’ll push election changes in 2021

Georgia Republican senators said after what happened in the 2020 election they will seek to make changes in state voting laws during the upcoming legislative session.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden beat Republican President Donald Trump in Georgia. Trump has spent the past month claiming fraud, putting pressure on GOP officials who run the state to do something about it because many of his supporters believe his unproven allegations.

“I’m going to try to build this statement based on a consensus of what I’m hearing from the people that I represent: We have totally lost confidence in our election system this year,” Senate Republican Whip Steve Gooch of Dahlonega said during a committee hearing Thursday. “I’m here on behalf of those citizens. I have a duty to let you know that this issue isn’t going to go away unless we make some changes.”

The hearing was one of two Senate Republican leaders scheduled Thursday.

At the second Senate hearing, attorneys for Trump said they planned to file a lawsuit in Fulton County that seeks to overturn the election results. Among other things, they said they had evidence that tens of thousands of ineligible voters cast ballots in the election. And they called on the General Assembly to send a slate of electors to Washington who would elect Trump as president.

After the initial hearing in which myriad “problems” in this year’s elections were aired, Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, a Gainesville Republican, said the Senate would pursue legislation to make changes to the election system next year.

”We will be addressing election reform and just tightening things up,” he said.

One “reform” almost certain to be debated would force voters casting absentee ballots to verify their identity using some form of identification.

Georgia voters casting ballots in person are required to show identification when arriving at the polls while state election officials have required signatures on absentee ballots to match with those in a voter’s registration file as a way of ensuring their identity. About a quarter of those voting in the November election cast absentee ballots, and after he lost the election, Trump argued, without proof, that many absentee votes were fraudulent.

Ryan Germany, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, told the panel that the office would support efforts to require an additional form of identification when voting absentee.

“Photo ID is a good way to verify people,” he said. “When we went to photo ID for in-person voting, what we found is it doesn’t restrict access, it doesn’t decrease turnout and it helps increase confidence in the process.”

Many of the questions committee members raised were based on unsubstantiated accusations of fraud brought up by Republicans in recent weeks.

Germany repeated statements made by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Voting machines were audited after the election and there were no issues reported, Germany said. And a hand recount conducted in the days after the election upheld the initial results.

“We did a 100% manual tally of those ballots — not based off QR codes, but based on the text of the ballot,” he said. “That proves that what was scanned matches what was (marked) on those ballots.”

At a second hearing before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, Trump attorneys — including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani — brought a parade of witnesses who cast doubt on the integrity of the election in Georgia.

Among other things, they repeated a conspiracy theory that the state’s new voting system was designed to switch votes — a claim disputed by the company that produced the system and by Georgia officials. They also showed video of Fulton County vote-counting they say showed suitcases of ballots being counted in secret after Republican poll monitors were sent home.

The county and the secretary of state have disputed that account. The county says the poll monitors left amid a misunderstanding among staff about how long they were supposed to work. And the secretary of state says a state monitor was present during the counting.

The committee heard testimony from several poll watchers and election workers who told of sloppy and unsecure ballot handling, mistakes in counting votes and scores of suspicious “pristine” ballots that appeared to have been identical. Most of the things they described were said to occur in Fulton County.

“We take the responsibility of protecting the vote seriously and have invested every possible resource into ensuring a free, fair and transparent election in compliance with all applicable laws,” the county said in a statement on the testimony.

“To date we are aware of no credible reports of voter fraud or wrongdoing in Fulton County,” the statement said. “Any credible report of such activity will be investigated and addressed as provided by Georgia law.”

Trump attorney Ray Smith said the campaign planned to file a lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court late Thursday. He said the lawsuit would show that tens of thousands of underage voters, felons, people who had moved away, dead people and other ineligible voters had cast ballots.

“This hearing is just the tip of the iceberg,” Smith said.

Several lawsuits contesting the election are already pending in federal and Fulton County courts. So far, the president’s efforts to overturn election results in numerous states have failed, despite more than two dozen lawsuits.