On Monday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 241, which would primarily eliminate no-excuse absentee voting. Other bills would reduce the number and locations for drop boxes, require additional identification to vote absentee, and restrict weekend and Sunday voting.
Let’s start with no-excuse absentee voting, which 1.3 million Georgians used to cast their ballots in November. Since the state does not register voters by party, there’s no way to know how many of those people were Democrats or Republicans.
But could 11,000 Democrats across the state work in hourly jobs or have child care issues and find waiting in line to vote almost impossible? Yes.
What about requiring additional documentation to request one of those absentee ballots? During an earlier Senate debate, Sen. Larry Walker said 3% of Georgia voters lack the ID that would be necessary. Could 11,000 of those roughly 300,000 voters be Democrats and not complete the paperwork to apply for an ID to vote in the next election? Of course.
How about the 2.7 million Georgians who voted early in person, which includes the roughly 71,000 who voted during the multiple Sundays of early voting in November? Could 11,000 of those voters be Democrats and find they can’t get to the polls during the week, including Election Day? Absolutely.
The Republicans may have found Donald Trump’s 11,000 Republican votes by subtracting 11,000 Democrats.
But could those same lawmakers be subtracting Republican votes in the process, too?
It’s entirely possible, worried GOP strategists tell me, because the most restrictive changes legislators are contemplating in Georgia are not based on data or evidence, but on the former president’s accusations and GOP voters’ suspicions.
In reality, the only real evidence presented during Monday’s Senate debate came from Black lawmakers, who grew up in the Jim Crow South and talked about their own experiences with voter suppression growing up and their worries about it today.
Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, talked about his grandfather, who was a sharecropper in Alamo, Ga., and could not vote until his own daughter was grown.
“As a sharecropper, the owner of the farm told him that if he voted, he would get kicked off the land,” Jackson explained.
Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, described seeing his uncle and other family members subjected to Jim Crow laws, once asked to guess how many beans were in a box, even though they couldn’t see through the box to count.
“Let me tell you what I know about voter suppression,” he said. “Let me tell you what I’ve lived through.”
As vivid as the accounts were of the people who stood to oppose the measure, it was the silence of five Republicans who chose not to be on the floor at all during the Senate debate that may have spoken louder than anything.
Chief among the abstainers was Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who watched the debate from a darkened Capitol office with two Coke Zeroes and a Wall Street Journal on his desk. Duncan has made his opposition to eliminating no-excuse absentee voting clear to the Republicans who pushed it, and said Monday he wouldn’t preside over a bill he can’t support.
Four other Senate Republicans stayed away, too, including Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, an orthopedic surgeon from Marietta, Sen. John Albers, a volunteer firefighter from Roswell, and Brian Strickland, the McDonough-based chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee who tried to remove the absentee voting rollback from the bill before it got to the floor.
All three represent the kind of crucial and competitive suburban districts Republicans have invested heavily in to win and need in order to keep their Senate majority.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler also stayed away. The anesthetist from Rome has long been more interested in changing the tax code than the voting rolls.
Those four Republicans won their districts thanks in large part to the General Assembly’s focus in 2020 on broadly popular issues like teacher pay raises, a hate crimes repeal, and quick COVID relief. They were all issues pushed by Gov. Brian Kemp, Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, but you could be forgiven for not knowing if Democrats or Republicans were behind them.
But there’s no mistaking who is pushing to change the voting laws. And just as much as Republicans could be keeping 11,000 Democrats away from the polls, they could be activating many more for the first time.
Aneesa Evans is a 29-year-old mom and home-health aide who stood with protestors in the Capitol as SB 241 was debated. She’s never been involved in politics before but said the rollbacks to voting make her worried for her children.
“I grew up here and I’ve seen the change,” she said. “And I don’t want to go backward from that. This is history.”