The Jolt: GOP voting bills take power from locals & Brad Raffensperger, give to lawmakers

12/14/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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12/14/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during a press conference at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Monday, December 14, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

It’s Crossover Day at the state Capitol, where bills that don’t win approval from one of the two chambers by today will have to wait for action next year.

Up today in the Georgia Senate: More than one dozen elections-related measures, including bills to restrict absentee voting and end automatic voter registration.

A crucial underlying trend in the Republican-backed proposals that’s attracting less attention than efforts to roll back voting rights: A transfer of power from the Secretary of State’s office and county boards of elections to lawmakers.

Under Senate Bill 241, up for debate later today, lawmakers would have to approve emergency election rules within 20 days of their creation. Also, elections officials would no longer be able to send absentee ballot request forms without voter requests. And the state could no longer enter into a consent decree without a joint resolution from the General Assembly.

The previously-adopted House package adds a few more twists.

It also creates a new chairman of the State Election Board, appointed by lawmakers, and turns the Secretary of State from a voting member to a non-voting member of the Board.

ExploreLive: Track major Georgia bills

A separate measure that has already cleared the Senate empowers the State Elections Board to replace local elections officials with new leaders if they don’t meet new performance standards. The House has a similar proposal pending.

Democrats say the changes amount to an unprecedented shift in elections administration to the Republican-controlled Legislature - payback for Democratic upset wins in January and November.

The measures would also greatly reduce the autonomy of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who is under attack by fellow Republicans after defying pressure to overturn former President Donald Trump’s loss.

A defiant Raffensperger has urged legislators to focus to “shore up security concerns” with absentee ballots.

“My only interest is continuing to ensure that Georgia has secure elections. The Georgia General Assembly should concentrate on further securing the absentee ballot process by adding photo ID verification.

“If they want someone who will cave to political pressure from one party or the other, they should put someone else in charge of elections. If they want someone who will follow the law and do everything in his power to ensure secure elections, that’s me.”

About our coverage

Providing the facts and context that help readers understand the current debate over voting laws is a priority for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For a better understanding of the issues driving Legislative action, click on these links.

15 headlines that explain the current debate

Latest news on voting bills

Read and track status of voting bills

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Another more immediate question remains: Will Republicans have the votes to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting later today?

The Senate measure would limit voting by mail to people who are at least 65 years old, have a physical disability, or are out of town. It’s drawn international criticism for adding new restrictions to the ballot box.

On Friday, critics of the measure were optimistic they had enough GOP votes to water down the restrictions. Over the weekend, they weren’t nearly as confident.

Key votes to watch today include three GOP senators in competitive districts who have not previously backed the effort: John Albers of Roswell, Kay Kirkpatrick of Marietta and Brian Strickland of Stockbridge.

Also keep an eye out on others in swing-y territory, like Clint Dixon of Gwinnett County.

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Under the Gold Dome (Crossover Day):

  • 8:00 am: Committee meetings begin;
  • 10:00 am: The House gavels in;
  • 10:00 am: The Senate convenes.

Also today:

  • 8:30 am: Gov. Brian Kemp visits mass vaccination sites in Habersham and Gwinnett counties;
  • 10:00 am: Sen. Raphael Warnock visits Morehouse School of Medicine and the mass COVID vaccination site at the Delta Flight Museum;
  • 7:30 pm: Sen. Jon Ossoff holds an online Town Hall meeting with constituents on his Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages.

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An analysis by the nonpartisan Brennan Center found the GOP’s proposed voting measures would most harm Black voters, the backbone of the Democratic Party in Georgia.

In the November election, the share of the vote-by-mail electorate among white voters dropped from 67%, in 2016, to 54% in 2020. The Black share, meanwhile, surged from 23% to 31%.

The decision to curb weekend voting would also disproportionately affect Black voters. Though voting on Sunday accounted for less than 3% of early in-person ballots in 2020, Black voters accounted for 36.5% of those ballots -- but just 27% of early in-person voters on other days.

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Friday at the Capitol provided a test vote for Medicaid expansion in Georgia. And it didn’t go well for Democrats.

During a vote in the Georgia House on the $27.2 billion state budget, House Minority Leader James Beverly pushed an amendment that would finance a full expansion of the Medicaid program for low-income Georgians.

Democrats have pressed for years for the full expansion under the Affordable Care Act, while state Republican leaders have resisted, saying it would be too costly in the long run.

Gov. Brian Kemp has promoted a more limited Medicaid expansion to provide health coverage to thousands of low-income and uninsured adults if they meet a work or activity requirement. But the Biden administration has that put on hold.

Beverly’s measure failed by a 98-68 party-line vote, but he called it an important marker that got Republicans “on record saying we’re not going to use money to expand Medicaid, not even a small amount to think about how we’re going to implement it.”

“And I think that’s a tragedy for Georgians,” he added.

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A pro-union sign at the gates to the Amazon plant in Bessemer, Ala., features an illustration of a masked-up Stacey Abrams flexing her arm while her left hand rolls up her sleeve. The image of Abrams has become a symbol of the nationally-watched union drive.

From Courthouse News:

The Rosie-the-Riveter Abrams sign stands at three locations, at least, on the roads around the Amazon plant, including right at its main gates. And in that way, Abrams has become an icon of sorts in the push to unionize the plant.

Joshua Brewer, organizing director for RWDSU, said the handful of signs featuring Abrams went up soon after she issued her statement. According to Brewer, the majority of the plant's workers are Black and women.

The image of Abrams rolling up her sleeves makes for “an inspiring figure that's saying ‘hey, gotta take our voice to the polls, we gotta vote, we can do it and we can do it together,'" Brewer said.

- Courthouse News

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thanked Georgia Sens Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock on Saturday as Democrats approved a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. The bill is a top priority for President Joe Biden, along with Warnock and Ossoff, and should pave the way for a round of $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals, among other COVID-focused items.

Warnock and Ossoff’s January victories made Senate passage of the massive legislation possible, which was far larger than Senate Republicans had called for. And Gov. Brian Kemp has complained about the formula used to divvy up $350 billion among the states, which gives priority to states with higher unemployment rates.

If the House approves the Senate-passed version of the bill this week, $8.2 billion will be headed to Georgia.

On Sunday, Ossoff and Warnock were also celebrated as trailblazers during an event commemorating the 56th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights march known infamously as “Bloody Sunday.” Georgia’s first Jewish and first Black senators were the joint recipients of the National Unity Award at the annual Martin and Coretta King Breakfast held virtually this year.

Ossoff used his remarks to call for expanded voting rights and to slam Georgia state lawmakers who are pushing for new voting restrictions. He called the GOP-backed bills “no better than Jim Crow” and the Republicans pushing them “no better than Bull Connor.”

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It appears that some U.S. House Republicans are fed up with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s tactics.

Hoping to slow down measures for transgender rights and coronavirus relief, the Rome Republican has moved for the House to adjourn several times in the last few weeks. The procedural moves have created a series of unscheduled floor votes, forcing even her GOP colleagues to miss constituent meetings and committee work.

Her adjournment proposals have no chance of passing, and The Hill reports that more and more “irritated” Republicans are voting against them.

Some point out the irony: Greene complained that ousting her from committees “stripped my district of their voice" and “stripped my voters of having representation to work for them." Now, Republicans are turning the tables on Greene, arguing that her obstruction is making them less effective at representing their own constituents.

“It's a senseless thing that doesn't really provide for productive results in the Congress," (Ohio U.S. Rep. David) Joyce, a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, told The Hill.

- The Hill

Greene responded on Twitter: “I didn’t get voted into office by politicians, I serve The People. It’s unfortunate that some of my GOP colleagues, who have been in Congress a lot longer than me, don’t share the outrage that Republican voters feel about the Democrat’s radical agenda!”