Less than one week after Republicans in Georgia passed a controversial new election law, one of the state’s top GOP leaders expressed concern over portions of the bill he believes don’t make sense.
“There were some things I didn’t like in the law early on in the process and I spoke up really loudly about it,” Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan told Yahoo News. “I think an important part of this is about continuing to live around the mantra of making voting in Georgia easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
As lieutenant governor, Duncan presides over the state’s Senate and casts tie-breaking votes. With the measure passing in the Legislature on a party line vote, however, that wasn’t necessary. Still, Duncan takes issue with some of the provisions of the new law.
“I didn’t think it made sense for us to roll back no-excuse, absentee ballot voting,” Duncan said. “I felt like the early versions of the bill also limited Sunday voting. I didn’t think that was a really good position to take.”
“I [also] didn’t think it necessarily made sense [to not allow] water and food in line,” he added. “I think there were just better ways to do it.”
Following a record 5 million votes cast in the 2020 election cycle in Georgia, Duncan said he hopes for an even bigger turnout in 2024, something critics of Georgia’s new law say it was designed to prevent. Duncan also adds that Republicans in his state need to regain credibility by admitting the fact that former President Trump lost in 2020 “fair and square.”
“I think the best place for Republicans to start in any sort of election reform conversation is to start off by saying former President Donald Trump lost the election fair and square,” he said. “Now let’s go have a conversation about ways to modernize and update the way we vote here in Georgia.”
Despite his gripes about portions of the law, Duncan believes the passing of Senate Bill 202, now the Election Integrity Act of 2021, ensures future Georgia elections will be more secure than ever before with increased ID requirements and changes to early voting.
But Democrats say there was nothing wrong with the election laws, as evidenced by the law passing along strictly partisan lines. Instead, they contend, Republicans have rolled out the new law in direct response to Democrats winning the presidential race and Senate runoff elections.
“SB 202 suppresses voters, criminalizes compassion & seizes election authority from local + state officials,” Former Democratic House Leader Stacey Abrams tweeted on Thursday, shortly after Kemp signed the bill into law after it passed in the Republican-majority Senate. “Republicans passed & signed #SB202 to signal their capitulation to lies over truth. To fear over fairness. To suppression over participation.”
Now the courts will decide the law’s fate. As of Wednesday afternoon, three civil rights organizations — the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund and the Georgia NAACP — have filed separate legal challenges to the law saying it will disproportionately affect elderly voters and people of color.
“The thinly-veiled attempt to roll back the progress we have made to empower Georgians — to use their voices in the democratic process — creates an arbitrary law that does not improve voter confidence, secure election integrity nor increase access to the ballot box,” Rev. James Woodall, state president of Georgia NAACP, said in a statement.
The most glaring change enacted in the new law concerns absentee voting. The earliest that voters can now request a mail-in ballot is 77 days before an election, instead of the previous allotted 180 days. Additionally, the final deadline to complete an absentee ballot application was moved back a week. Republicans say those changes will cut down on the number of ballots rejected because of tight turnaround times.
GOP state Rep. Alan Powell said the new law brings uniformity to an electoral system that was severely stressed during the last election cycle.
“The Georgia election system was never made to be able to handle the volume of votes that it handled,” he told the New York Times. “What we’ve done in this bill in front of you is we have cleaned up the workings, the mechanics of our election system.”
Not surprisingly, Democrats disagree.
A record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee in the general election, with then-candidate Joe Biden nearly doubling Trump’s total, receiving almost 850,000 votes compared to Trump’s 450,000. Democrats see the tightening of restrictions as a form of retaliation. The new provisions, progressives argue, suppresses the vote for marginalized communities, including Black Georgians who turned out in record numbers in the most recent election cycle, some of whom relied on longer turnaround times to return their ballots.
Nikema Williams, Georgia’s newest Democratic congresswoman, told CNN on Sunday that she believes the state’s recent progressive wins is fueling a GOP backlash.
“Republicans are pushing back and they’re upset that we were able to win,” she said. “And so they’re going to do everything in their power right now to restrict access to people who mainly look like me from voting.”
The new election law also has new voter ID requirements for requesting and returning a ballot. Applicants must now include their driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of another acceptable voter ID. But many poor Georgians and people of color who live in rural communities do not have a state-issued ID, potentially excluding them from participating in future elections.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, one of Georgia’s two new Democratic senators, questioned the motivations of Republican leaders who support this law.
“You are literally going to make public policy based on a lie, based on the feeling that some people have that things didn’t turn out the way they should have turned out?” Warnock said at an event in Atlanta Friday. “Is that how we make public policy?”
In defending the new law, Kemp said Tuesday that it “expands access” to voting.
“I think when people get educated on the bill and are not subjected to people misleading them on the other side about what this bill actually does,” he told NPR Tuesday, “I think they’ll have good understanding of why the General Assembly took the actions that they did.”
One bright spot in the new law cited by proponents and critics of the legislation is that it extends early voting opportunities, making Saturday voting mandatory while keeping Sunday hours optional. In addition, counties can now have early voting hours lasting up to 12 hours a day, with a minimum of eight hours.
But another point of contention in the law are its changes to the State Election Board. The secretary of state will no longer chair the board and the new chair would be appointed by a majority of lawmakers in the state House and Senate. Current Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, a Republican, came under fire following the 2020 election when he disputed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud in the presidential election, and did not go along with pressure not to certify the results.
Duncan believes Raffensperger is getting pushed aside for the “appeasement” of those who buy into the “conspiracy” that Trump should have one in 2020.
“The only thing [Raffensperger is] guilty of is being former president’s scapegoat,” Duncan said.
Under the new law, the State Elections Board will now have more power to intervene in county elections boards that are deemed “underperforming,” which many feel leaves room for Republicans to overturn future elections that don’t go their way.
Hillary Holley, organizing director of Fair Fight, a grassroots nonprofit that encourages voter participation, believes that if these laws were in place in 2020, Republicans would have been able to stop the election from being certified and overturned the election in favor of Trump.
“They are trying to change the fundamental way elections work and that shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Holley told Yahoo News.
Republican Rep. Barry Fleming, a key voice in creating the law, called the provision a “temporary fix, so to speak, that ends and the control is turned back over to the locals after the problems are resolved.”
With the repercussions of Georgia’s new election law still being debated and its legality soon to be argued in court, Duncan said that Republicans need to get back to focusing on the challenges already facing their constituents, rather than creating new ones.
“We’ve got to dive into communities and understand the real problems,” he said. “We can’t just use 280 characters to demonize people all over the country, if not the world, if we want to convince folks to vote for us.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images, Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP
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