In the aftermath of Georgia’s 2021 election changes, a fresh batch of Republican-backed bills could go even further in the upcoming legislative session.
The election-year proposals would eliminate all remaining ballot drop boxes, discard the state’s recently purchased voting touchscreen machines, give the GBI authority to investigate voting fraud and create a constitutional amendment to prevent any future possibility that noncitizens could be allowed to vote.
The tide of voting bills arrives as GOP legislators push beyond last year’s election overhaul following incumbent Republican Donald Trump’s narrow loss to Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race. The sweeping law limited absentee voting drop boxes to early voting sites, required additional ID for absentee voting, allowed state takeovers of county elections and made many other changes.
Voting rights groups warn that Republican legislators are seeking to limit voting access as a way to please constituents who believe false allegations that the 2020 election was stolen because Trump said it was.
But supporters of additional voting laws say they have more work to do when this year’s legislative session begins Monday.
House Speaker David Ralston said legislators should move beyond the presidential election, though he’s promoting a bill in response to it. Ralston’s proposal would allow GBI agents to investigate election cases. Currently, the secretary of state’s office handles election inquiries.
“My goal is to never have a repeat of an election where 13 months after it’s over, you still have this degree of questioning the validity of an election, rightly or wrongly,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “It’s time we look through the windshield rather than the rearview mirror.”
Multiple investigations have discredited suspicions of fraud by Trump supporters, including false claims of counterfeit ballots, ballot stuffing and forged absentee ballot signatures.
State Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Democrat from Grayson, said Republican lawmakers are introducing bills that perpetuate the myth of widespread fraud.
“What we’re seeing is this race to get the most far-right policies so they can win their primaries. Whoever can advance the most outrageous policy will be ahead with their base,” Merritt said. “They’re doing this to sow distrust and more division.”
Two Republican senators competing in the race for lieutenant governor are seeking new election laws: Sen. Burt Jones, who has been endorsed by Trump, and Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller.
Jones wants Georgia to ditch most of its voting touchscreens, the primary component of a new $138 million statewide voting system that prints out paper ballots.
Jones, who supported the voting system bill in 2019, said voters should instead fill out paper ballots by hand rather than on machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems. Touchscreens would remain an option for voters who prefer them.
Critics of touchscreens, including both Trump supporters and nonpartisan election integrity advocates, say electronic voting could be vulnerable to hacking.
“Georgia voters deserve transparency in the electoral process and confidence that only legal votes are counted,” said Jones, a Republican from Jackson whose bill was introduced last year. “Senate Bill 233 is a bipartisan approach that accomplishes that by moving away from electronic voting machines and returning to secure paper ballots.”
There is no evidence of many problems with “illegal votes” in the 2020 election. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that election investigators found just four ballots cast in the names of voters who had died, all of them returned by their relatives.
Miller, a proponent of Georgia’s voting law that reduced the availability of absentee ballot drop boxes, now wants to take the additional step of banning them entirely with Senate Bill 325. Miller said drop boxes are vulnerable to fraud, though there’s no evidence they were abused.
“Drop boxes are the weakest link in our voting system, and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” said Miller, a Republican from Gainesville. “Drop boxes were an emergency response to the pandemic. And so just like masking, just like some other protocols, we need to go back to a sense of normalcy.”
Meanwhile, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is also pursuing election changes as he faces a primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Jody Hice. Raffensperger wants a constitutional amendment that would ban noncitizens from voting, which is already prohibited by state law.
Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by Democratic candidate for governor Stacey Abrams, plans to organize against what it calls “the GOP’s voter suppression agenda.”
“Fair Fight Action and voting rights groups across Georgia are ready to fight back against any and all anti-voter proposals that Republicans try to force through this legislative session,” said Hillary Holley, the group’s organizing director. “We are calling all Georgians, especially in our business community, to join us in standing up against the kinds of egregious attacks on our democracy we’re already seeing.”
The prospects for the Republican bills are uncertain amid intraparty rivalries, especially between Jones and Miller, as well as among supporters of Gov. Brian Kemp and David Perdue in their race for governor.
Both will try to pass bills to help their election chances, but their opponents will attempt to deprive them of victories they can brag about on the campaign trail.
Bills that didn’t pass last year could also be revived, including proposals to end automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices and eliminate absentee voting except for the elderly and people with disabilities.
Proposed Georgia election bills
- Authorize the GBI to investigate election-related allegations without a request from a local government.
- Eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes.
- Replace touchscreen voting computers, called ballot-marking devices, with hand-marked paper ballots. Touchscreens would remain available for those who prefer to use them.
- Ban voting by noncitizens, which is already prohibited by state law.