OPINION: Why change voting in Georgia? That’s a great question

A voter makes ballot selections at Landmark Church in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Casey Sykes/The Atlanta-Journal Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A voter makes ballot selections at Landmark Church in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Casey Sykes/The Atlanta-Journal Constitution/TNS)

There are now 24 bills pending in the Georgia legislature to change the way Georgians vote.

One requires an excuse to vote absentee. Another eliminates absentee voting altogether. One bill requires voter ID to request a mail-in ballot. Another bans the state’s new drop boxes. Some are small, technical fixes. Others are major overhauls. The list goes on and on.

The bills to add restrictions, so far, have come from Republican lawmakers and follow an election where Democrats won the White House and both U.S. Senate seats, but Republicans fared well down the ballot.

So what is the problem GOP lawmakers are trying to solve? That’s a great question. And I know it’s a great question because many told me so.

I asked Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan what problem he wants to solve with changes to absentee voting? Duncan, the president of the state Senate, has endorsed voter ID to cast a ballot remotely.

“I think that’s a great question,” he said. “The answer is, I don’t think we have identified a problem we are trying to solve. I think this is an opportunity,” he said, “to update and modernize” voting in Georgia.

Moving on to Sen. Mike Dugan, the affable Georgia Senate Majority Leader. What problem is he trying to solve by requiring an excuse to vote absentee, part of an omnibus package of changes to voting he’s planning to introduce?

“That’s a good question,” he said. “It’s not a problem, as much as a-having-a-sense-of-a-surety that it’s not a right taken lightly. This is one of the most sacred rights that we have as a people. It should have some thought that goes into it.”

Dugan went on to talk about women voting in Iraq in 2005, who dipped their fingers in purple ink after they cast their ballots.

“I’m not saying we ought to go there, but I’m just thinking back to Iraq. Especially the women that were getting to go in and put everything in danger and marking themselves with the purple paint,” he said, getting emotional at the thought of it. “That, to me, showed how important it was and it wasn’t an afterthought.”

How about Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the Republican overseeing elections? He has long advocated adding voter ID for absentee voting to have a consistent ID requirement, no matter how a person votes.

But Raffensperger has insisted again and again, including in a 10-page letter to Congress, that Georgia’s elections had no widespread fraud and the November election results were reliable and accurate. “You do not have to like the results of an election to accept them,” Raffensperger wrote to Congress.

Ask five more Republicans what problem they’re trying to solve and you’re likely to get five more answers, including the very real dilemma that most Republican voters in Georgia have lost faith in Georgia’s elections.

The latest Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll showed that while just 4% of Democrats said they believe there was substantial fraud in November, 76% of Republicans say there was.

As for fixes to the system, the AJC poll showed most Georgians support some form of identification to vote absentee, but oppose eliminating drop boxes or requiring an excuse for absentee voting, all proposals GOP lawmakers have put forward.

Other ideas floating around the Capitol track almost directly with former president Donald Trump’s list of grievances and conspiracies that he laid out before and after November.

“There’s no way we lost Georgia. There’s no way,” Trump told the crowd at his rally in Dalton the night before Georgia’s January runoffs. “That was a rigged election.”

He complained bitterly about drop boxes, which he called “illicit,” and absentee ballots, which he falsely claimed “illegally flooded” the state.

He also demanded more voter ID laws, attacked mail-in voting, and alleged that scores of dead people voted (they didn’t.)

Now a month later, all of the areas Trump claimed needed changing are included in real legislation being proposed this legislative session. But there’s no bill to solve the problem of a president who lied about it all and left a state and party divided over what to do next.

Rep. Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) has been a part of the state’s ongoing battle for civil rights and he’ll be a part of this fight, too.

“I think they are trying to do something to fit a false narrative,” he said of Republicans. “It’s hard to take something that’s constitutionally mandated for the people that have the right to vote and adjust it to the narrative that this was not a fair election. To me, that’s a big stretch.”

Smyre, the longest-serving member of the Georgia House, said he’s open to debate, but wants “fairness” in election laws in the state. Sen. Dugan wants elections to be “as fast, as accurate, as secure as possible,” with restored public faith in the system.

Lt. Gov. Duncan wants the state prepared for elections in the future, when he anticipates a permanently elevated rate of absentee voting.

Others want more onerous changes. The former president will probably never change his tune.

What can lawmakers do in the 25 legislative days they have left this session to solve all of those problems?

That’s a great question.