The Jolt: Rising GOP pushback to the Democratic narrative about the election law

January 6, 2021 Atlanta: Election count observers are toured through the work area as Fulton County resumed counting ballots at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 an hour later than election officials had planned. Fulton elections director Richard Barron told county commissioners Wednesday morning there are 7,500 absentee ballots left to be uploaded. Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said there are 2,700 left to be processed at Georgia World Congress Center. Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party. The adjudication process for those remaining ballots will begin today at 3 p.m. That means Fulton’s ballots won’t be uploaded until after 3 p.m., Barron said. The process will occur at the county’s English Street warehouse, which is where votes are actually uploaded once they’ve been adjudicated. “We have been unfairly, and I’ll state that unequivocally, unfairly criticized by any number of people,” Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a virtual press conference, “no justification whatsoever.” State election officials said voting generally went smoothly Tuesday, with short lines and average wait times of about 1 minute. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
January 6, 2021 Atlanta: Election count observers are toured through the work area as Fulton County resumed counting ballots at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 an hour later than election officials had planned. Fulton elections director Richard Barron told county commissioners Wednesday morning there are 7,500 absentee ballots left to be uploaded. Fulton spokeswoman Jessica Corbitt said there are 2,700 left to be processed at Georgia World Congress Center. Mail-in ballots take more time to count because they are more complicated to tabulate. There are a variety of reasons, including an adjudication process that allows ballots with stray markings or other irregularities to be reviewed by poll watchers from each party. The adjudication process for those remaining ballots will begin today at 3 p.m. That means Fulton’s ballots won’t be uploaded until after 3 p.m., Barron said. The process will occur at the county’s English Street warehouse, which is where votes are actually uploaded once they’ve been adjudicated. “We have been unfairly, and I’ll state that unequivocally, unfairly criticized by any number of people,” Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said during a virtual press conference, “no justification whatsoever.” State election officials said voting generally went smoothly Tuesday, with short lines and average wait times of about 1 minute. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Democrats have been consistent in their message about Georgia’s election law: they say it was unnecessary, based on former President Donald Trump’s “big lie” about the election, creates new barriers for voters and harkens back to a dark time in America by disproportionately affecting Black people.

But Republicans are starting to push back in earnest. Many are circulating a recent Washington Post fact check that pointed out some of President Joe Biden’s criticisms are based on provisions that didn’t make it into the final law. The Post gave Biden “four Pinocchios,” and we’ve seen that hashtag used frequently to criticize him.

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson wrote a letter to Delta CEO Ed Bastian, lambasting him for a memo he wrote about the bill. Ferguson described it as a “shockingly inaccurate and irresponsible assessment of the law.” Ferguson, a Republican from West Point, said that critics of the bill are “people with hidden agendas.”

Ferguson ended his letter with a challenge:

Without question, free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, and the security of our electoral system is vital to preserving its integrity. We should no longer accept the false choice between voter access and voter integrity. We should demand and achieve both.

Georgia’s law does just that. I represent a large number of Delta employees, and on their behalf, I request that you provide a detailed list of your issues with the new election law in writing. Establishing trust with your customers, employees, and our constituents starts with telling the entire truth in an open and transparent manner.

To this point, you have not been truthful, and it’s time to change the tack.

The Wall Street Journal has penned several editorials defending the changes. And Gov. Brian Kemp has conducted 37 media interviews since he signed the measure into law last week.

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. Our journalists work hard to be fair and will follow this complex story as it continues to develop.

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

At the same time, leading Georgia Democrats are tamping down talk of boycotting Georgia based-companies.

As we reported Thursday, Stacey Abrams said there’s no need for economic payback “yet” as she urged Georgia corporations and events to forcefully oppose election restrictions, finance voting rights expansions and support federal voting bills.

At a stop in southwest Atlanta, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff had a somewhat similar take. Here’s what he told one of your Insiders:

“We absolutely don’t want to see any boycott of our state. We want business and investment and events. And indeed it’s the rapid economic growth and development of our state that’s driven political progress. We want to see that continue. But (what) I would encourage corporate leaders who share my horror at laws that are brazenly intended to disenfranchise the people should do, is they should cease their financial support for Georgia’s Republican Party.”

ExploreWhat a Pepsi can says about the GOP’s rift with corporate Atlanta

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Stacey Abrams is taking part in a bill-signing ceremony with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy as he signs into law a bill that authorizes early in-person voting in his state for the first time.

The New York Times reports that Abrams will appear by video teleconference at an event created to highlight that Jersey is bucking the trend in conservative states by expanding, not limiting, voting access.

“While states across our nation turn back the clock to Jim Crow-era voter suppression laws, New Jersey will expand access to the ballot box,” Murphy wrote on Twitter.

But the move is also drawing criticism from Republicans who point out that Georgia has had early in-person voting for years. The New Jersey law still doesn’t provide as many early voting days as Georgia currently allows, even under the bill that Abrams and other Democrats have so maligned.

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We told you Wednesday to expect the unexpected on the last day of the General Assembly’s legislative session. Today the AJC’s Ty Tagami digs into the education-related measures that muscled their way across the finish line into law, including a bill to protect “learning pods.” More:

“The voting ended yearslong debate about home-schooled students when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 42. The legislation, similar to bills introduced in prior years, would require their neighborhood schools to let them try out for the football team, the school musical or other extracurricular activities. In exchange, they would have to take at least one course at the school.

“Another bill affecting students at home was born of the pandemic: Senate Bill 246, dubbed the “learning pod protection act,” prohibits regulation of homes and other informal places where parents send their kids to work and play together, whether before or after school or to attend classes online.”

ExploreAJC Bill Tracker: Which bills have been signed, vetoed by Gov. Kemp

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POSTED: Gov. Brian Kemp now has 40 days to sign the bills passed by the legislature, to veto them, or to let them become law without his signature.

“The Republican hasn’t been shy about using the red pen, nixing 14 measures in 2019 and an additional four last year, though some of the attention-grabbing measures that have come to his desk this year are either in the books or assured to earn his signature.

Kemp has already signed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s election system that includes new restrictions to voting, plus a modest state income tax cut.

“He’s also sure to approve a measure to overhaul a Civil War-era citizen’s arrest law that came under scrutiny after the shooting death of a Black man in South Georgia and a $27.2 billion spending plan that includes extra money for schools, health care and roads.

“But there are a range of other measures that could be trickier decisions for the governor, who is wrestling with pushback from the GOP base thanks to former President Donald Trump’s wrath as well as an expected rematch from Democrat Stacey Abrams.”

The AJC’s Maya T. Prabhu and Mark Niesse also have a roundup of some of the legislation that failed this year, including expanded gun rights, sports betting and prohibiting hospitals from restricting visitors during national emergencies.

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U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene has been talking up her proposal to fire Dr. Anthony Fauci, who became the most famous medical professional in America during the coronavirus pandemic.

Her bill was going nowhere already in a Democratic-controlled Congress where Greene is persona non grata, but Jamie Dupree reports there are other problems of Greene’s own making.

According to materials she released about the legislation, it may have some issues. “It’s time to FIRE FAUCI,” Greene said on Twitter, blasting the government’s top infectious disease expert over his work on the Coronavirus.

NO PAY. Greene wants to reduce Fauci’s salary to $0, “until a new NIAID Administrator to replace Fauci is confirmed by the Senate.” But Greene’s explanation was wrong — Fauci’s job does *not* require Senate confirmation.

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U.S. Sen. Reverend Raphael Warnock and Rep. Hank Johnson sent a letter Thursday to a federal official asking for an investigation of reported deaths at Georgia nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawmakers’ letter, sent to the inspector general at the U.S. Department Health and Human Services, highlights ongoing questions about whether the state mis-reported or under-reported deaths. For example, Johnson and Warnock say that 41 nursing homes in Georgia reported zero COVID-related deaths despite also experiencing 900 coronavirus infections.

“The irregularities in reported data of COVID-19 deaths in nursing home demand urgent action. Ensuring greater transparency in all reported COVID-19 data is critical for Georgia families,” Warnock said in a statement. “Hardworking Georgians entrust nursing home facilities to keep their loved ones safe; we need clarity so our state’s families can be confident that their loved ones are safe — and to provide a more accurate picture of the effects of the pandemic on our most vulnerable Georgians.”

The AJC’ Carrie Teegardin reported in February that some Georgia nursing homes and senior care facilities were not reporting COVID cases and many were still having issues following infection-control guidelines.

ExploreOPINION: The story behind Brad Raffensperger’s demotion in Georgia’s new election law

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