The Jolt: Why Georgia elections may never be the same

Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan watches as Senator Larry Walker speaks on SB67 on day 21 of the legislative session in the Senate Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol Building in downtown Atlanta, Tuesday, February 23, 2021.
Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan watches as Senator Larry Walker speaks on SB67 on day 21 of the legislative session in the Senate Chambers at the Georgia State Capitol Building in downtown Atlanta, Tuesday, February 23, 2021.

Hopper talker, Herschel Walker, and Ossoff topper lead the day

Even as Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan was celebrating the passage of a quartet of elections-related measures that included an ID requirement to cast mail-in ballots, state Senate Republicans were already poised to unspool a far-reaching new proposal.

Senate Bill 241 from state Sen. Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) would take a number of restrictive steps even many top other Republicans haven’t endorsed.

  • It would repeal no-excuse absentee voting for most Georgians, and require a witness signature for some of those who meet the few exceptions, along with a photocopy of the ID.
  • It would limit the locations of early-voting sites and restrict mobile voting buses, like the ones used in Fulton County, by requiring polling places to be in buildings.
  • It would grant the Legislature new powers to review emergency voting rules, such as the ballot drop boxes cleared by state officials during the pandemic.

The proposal, like others that limit access to the ballot box, brought a swift rebuke from Democrats who are defending against separate legislation that would ban Sunday voting and shorten the window to request absentee ballots. Sarah Tindall Ghazal, the former voter protection chief of the state Democratic Party, said the new Senate proposal was “shameless.”

“This is hugely restrictive,” she said, “and will impact older, poor, and Black voters far more than other demographics.”

And Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, gave a side-eye to the crush of elections bills.

”We are reviewing bills. Once we see something that prioritizes the security and accessibility of elections we’ll throw in support. At the end of the day many of these bills are reactionary to a three month disinformation campaign that could have been prevented,” Raffensperger said through a spokeswoman.

The Democratic campaign to turn public opinion against the measures is well underway. We told you yesterday that Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group launched by Stacey Abrams, launched a seven-figure ad campaign to sour Georgians on the restrictive measures.

The first ad took aim at Republicans by arguing that restrictions on absentee balloting hurts GOP voters as much as it harms Democrats. The second, out Wednesday, draws a direct line between the proposals limiting access to the ballot and the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.

“They tried to overturn an election,” a narrator says, as pictures of Georgia GOP officials float on the screen. “Attacked our democracy. Pushing false conspiracies. And now, these Georgia Republicans want to make them happy. Make it harder for Georgia to vote.”

Then the close: “They must be stopped. Tell your lawmaker to protect our right to vote.”

Some Republicans already worry about losing the narrative battle. As one GOP critic put it: “If Democrats were looking for a reason to pass a new federal voting rights law, this is example 1A.”

It’s not clear which packages will end up as law, or how fully they’d stand up to the court challenges sure to follow. But all seem to agree that changes to Georgia’s elections are coming.

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Under the Gold Dome (Legislative Day 22):

  • 8:00 am: House and Senate committee meetings begin;
  • 10:00 am: The House convenes;
  • 10:00 am: The Senate convenes.

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Today’s hopper treasure comes from the Jolt’s resident hopper watcher, Maya Prabhu, who unearthed a resolution from Sen. Bill Cowsert and others to appoint an honorary General Assembly Chaplain.

Among other reasons the lawmakers say they’re in need of dedicated spiritual support: “Stress caused by the annual legislative session;” the need to keep the session “as efficient and effective as possible;” and the COVID-19 pandemic, which means, “It has never been more important to stay health-conscious.”

Self-care for Mitchell Street-- can we get an Amen?

***

In this screenshot from the RNC's livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, former NFL athlete Herschel Walker addresses the virtual convention on Aug. 24, 2020.  (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee/Getty Images/TNS)
In this screenshot from the RNC's livestream of the 2020 Republican National Convention, former NFL athlete Herschel Walker addresses the virtual convention on Aug. 24, 2020. (Photo Courtesy of the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Herschel Walker for Senate? Georgia Republicans have been buzzing with the rumor that the Georgia football legend — and close friend of former President Donald Trump — could challenge U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock next year.

We’ve heard the talk for days, mostly from the pundit class and others trying to egg on Number 34. Our attempts to reach Walker have so far gone unanswered.

Still, he’d be an intriguing possibility in an unsettled field that just lost former U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Walker emerged as a voice for far-right conservative causes, and spoke up for Trump at last year’s Republican National Convention.

Just last week, he testified to a U.S. House Committee that Black Americans should not receive reparations for slavery.

He’s also been a key backer of former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler — he cut an ad for her last year — and Gov. Brian Kemp. And he has iconic status across much of Bulldog Nation.

We’re doubtful he’ll get into the race, just as we were super skeptical about Perdue’s brief flirtation with a run last week. One problem: He lives in Texas, though we’ve heard rumblings he’s planning to make Georgia his primary home.

Either way, stay tuned.

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The exact role that Donald Trump will play in Georgia’s next elections is unknown. But it’s already clear that Georgia is still on the former president’s mind.

We reported Tuesday that former U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s decision not to run in 2022 followed a visit with the former president at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. People with direct knowledge said Trump spent much of the time railing against Republicans he claimed didn’t do enough to overturn his defeat.

The New York Times also detailed Perdue and Trump’s dinner and “lengthy round of golf”:

“Two Republicans, one in Atlanta and another in Washington, separately said that Mr. Trump spent much of his conversation with Mr. Perdue making clear his determination to unseat Georgia’s governor next year. Trying to navigate a feud between the former president and his state’s sitting governor for the next two years was deeply unappealing to Mr. Perdue, according to a Georgia Republican who knows the former senator.”

In a separate report, the Wall Street Journal noted that Trump spoke earlier this week with former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

“Mr. Trump called Ms. Loeffler on Monday to express his support for her voter-registration effort, the person said, and the two discussed a possible future visit by Ms. Loeffler to his private Florida club, Mar-a-Lago.”

***

As names continue to surface as potential 2022 challengers against him, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock seemed even-keeled on Capitol Hill Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“I am prepared to defeat whatever Republican they come up with,” Warnock told reporters.

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The Washington Post leads its editorial Tuesday with U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff and his questions of security officials during Tuesday’s Senate hearing on attack on the U.S. Capitol:

WHO'S IN charge? Who was ultimately responsible for the safety of the Capitol?" Those were the questions asked by Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) Tuesday after the Senate concluded its first hearing into the breakdowns in intelligence-gathering and security preparations ahead of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. Good questions, and no clear answers emerged from six hours of maddening testimony marked by finger-pointing and blame-shifting.

- The Washington Post

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11/02/2020 —  Atlanta, Georgia — Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic candidate for Georgia's 7th Congressional District, speaks during a Biden-Harris rally in Atlanta’s Summerhill community ,Monday, November 2, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
11/02/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Carolyn Bourdeaux, Democratic candidate for Georgia's 7th Congressional District, speaks during a Biden-Harris rally in Atlanta’s Summerhill community ,Monday, November 2, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

As Congress prepares to vote on the next round of coronavirus relief, Republican groups are already ramping up messaging campaigns that paint the $1.9 trillion package as partisan, wasteful, and...ideal campaign fodder for 2022.

  • The Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC controlled by Republican leaders in the U.S. House, is targeting U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux and 10 other representatives in swing districts ahead of Friday’s vote on the COVID-19 relief bill, Punchbowl News says.
  • An advocacy group tied to the Republican Party, American Action Network, has a similar campaign against Bourdeaux underway.
  • Americans for Prosperity, the libertarian group founded by the Koch brothers, has both Republicans and Democrats on its target list, including Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The group is launching radio ads, digital ads, mailers and a new website criticizing the relief bill and urging senators to vote it down.

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Citizens Facts PAC, based in Savannah, purchased a full-page ad in the Savannah Morning News criticizing U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter for attempting to overturn Joe Biden’s electoral college victory in Georgia and other key states even after insurrectionists tried to disrupt the joint session.

“Remember the Capitol,” it reads.

Although Carter’s 1st Congressional District is considered solidly Republican, Democrats are hoping that changing demographics, coupled with redistricting, may make the seat more winnable for the party’s nominee in 2022.

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POSTED: Two Metro Atlanta counties want their money back from the money they spent defending lawsuits from supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Dekalb and Cobb Counties are both suing Trump and State GOP Chairman David Shafer for attorneys’ fees related to what they called “meritless” attempts to overturn the results of the November election.

Shafer was among those who challenged the counting of general election votes last year before pulling back. More from the AJC’s David Wickert:

Among other things, the lawsuit said tens of thousands of illegal voters cast ballots in the November election — claims that election experts said were “highly inaccurate" and “worthless." Trump later withdrew the lawsuit on the eve of a court hearing.

Now Cobb and DeKalb counties say the former president and Shafer should pay their legal bills. In a brief filed Monday, Cobb says it spent $10,875 on the “meritless and legally deficient petition." DeKalb says it spent $6,105.

“Given the number of failed lawsuits filed by the former president and his campaign, petitioners apparently believed that they could file their baseless and legally deficient actions with impunity, with no regard for the costs extracted from the taxpayers' coffers or the consequences to the democratic foundations of our country," Cobb's brief said.

- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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