As Georgia Senate lawmakers began debating sweeping elections restrictions on Monday, the top Republican in the chamber sat in a darkened Capitol office watching the proceedings on a TV screen wedged into the corner of the room.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan has repeatedly opposed efforts to severely limit absentee voting that are embedded in Senate Bill 241. But with Republicans on the cusp of muscling through the legislation, the state’s No. 2 official temporarily gave up his gavel and walked to his second-floor suite.
He told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he refuses to be the presiding officer for a measure he so adamantly opposes. In his stead, Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller sat in the ceremonial chair at the head of the chamber.
Duncan, a former state House member elected in 2018, drew fierce attacks from former President Donald Trump when he forcefully pushed back on lies that the election was “rigged” for Democrats. Duncan faces a re-election bid next year, though he’s also a potential U.S. Senate candidate.
The legislation would restrict absentee voting to people who are at least 65 years old, have a physical disability or are out of town. Democrats say it’s an effort to suppress access to the ballot after a record 1.3 million Georgia voters used absentee ballots to fuel Joe Biden’s narrow victory over Trump in November.
The lieutenant governor wasn’t the only Republican critic to sidestep the debate. State Sens. John Albers of Roswell, Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta and Brian Strickland of McDonough – who each represent competitive districts and oppose getting rid of no-excuse absentee voting – were all excused from the debate.
So was state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler of Rome, who was seen as a potential “no” vote. Duncan isn’t able to vote, even in the event of a tie.
State Sen. Nan Orrock, a Decatur Democrat and staunch opponent of the measure, nodded to all the absences as she spoke against the measure.
“Glad to see there’s still members of the GOP on the floor as we have this bill debated,” she quipped.
Still, even with those potential defections, the measure earned enough support in the GOP-controlled chamber to narrowly pass.