Georgia Senate panel backs end to automatic voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting

The Georgia Senate Ethics Committee voted Friday to advance bills ending automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

The Georgia Senate Ethics Committee voted Friday to advance bills ending automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting. MARK NIESSE / MARK.NIESSE@AJC.COM

A Senate committee passed voting restrictions Friday that would end automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia.

The Senate Ethics Committee voted mostly along party lines to advance the bills, which could reach the full Senate next week.

The voting limitations advanced Friday are the latest in a series of bills pushed by Republican legislators after record turnout led to Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Republican Donald Trump. Other legislation advancing in the General Assembly would add voter ID requirements for absentee voting, restrict ballot drop boxes and limit weekend early voting hours.

Georgia has been a national leader in automatic voter registration since Republican Gov Brian Kemp, who was secretary of the state at the time, implemented it in fall 2016. Since then, the state’s number of registered voters has increased by about 1.5 million, to a total of 7.7 million.

Under Senate Bill 69, voters wouldn’t be automatically registered to vote when they get their driver’s licenses. They’d have to check a box to sign up to vote.

State Sen. Sally Harrell, a Democrat from Atlanta, said Republicans are trying to crack down on voting access because they lost the presidency and Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats.

“Those are not reasons to radically change the voting laws that have worked so well for a long time, including the 2020 election,” Harrell said. “There’s no good reason to change all these policies. In other words, we’re fixing something that’s not broken.”

The sponsor of the bill, Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, said the state shouldn’t sign people up to vote by default.

“We believe that it’s important people have the ability to register to vote, and we believe just to assume that people need to vote might not be the right way,” said Mullis, a Republican from Chickamauga.

The measure ending no-excuse absentee voting, Senate Bill 71, would only allow people to vote remotely if they’re 65 or over, have a physical disability or are out of town.

A record 1.3 million people cast absentee ballots in the presidential election out of a total of 5 million total voters.

The Senate Ethics Committee could vote Monday on a separate bill, Senate Bill 241, that includes similar limitations on no-excuse absentee voting, along with requirements for ID when voting absentee and restrictions on drop boxes.

In addition, the full House is scheduled to vote Monday on House Bill 531, which would mandate absentee ID, reduce drop box availability, set earlier deadlines for requesting absentee ballots and disqualify ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

If these bills pass the Senate and House, they would then move to the other legislative chamber for further debate, amendments and votes.

Bills that passed the Senate Ethics Committee on Friday

SB 67: Ends automatic voter registration

SB 71: Requires an excuse to vote absentee

SB 72: Calls for more reporting of voters who have died

SB 74: Allows poll watchers in tabulation centers

SB 178: Bans governments from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms

SB 253: Provides a poster-size notice for polling places that have been moved