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New round starting in battle over Georgia election bills

Georgia Senate floor Capitol file Georgia's state Senate floor. File/credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

In a new 25-page proposal, Georgia Senate Republicans set out their official position on what they call securing elections — the bill would basically end Georgians’ broad access to voting absentee by mail.

Democrats were quick to add Senate Bill 241 to what they call a campaign of voter suppression, given that even Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State could find no fraud in an audit of 15,000 mail-in votes Georgians cast last year.

Republicans say it’s about building trust with voters who don’t trust the system; and eliminating the risk of fraud in a method of voting that Georgians chose millions of times in various elections last year.

Only people who are physically unable to go to a polling place or who would be out of the state would be able to vote by mail under Senate Bill 241, filed by Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton. The bill also requires a copy of an ID to get a mail-in ballot.

“Recently, many of our citizens have expressed a lack of faith and integrity in our current election systems. We have heard these concerns voiced by many, and addressing these concerns has been at the forefront of our legislative efforts this year to promote the good of this state,” said a statement from the Republican Senate Caucus, as it announced Senate Bill 241 on Wednesday.

And SB 241 does a range of other things, some of which would be invisible to the typical voter, like specifying when counties can start tabulating ballots.

And some things would only affect some places, like banning mobile precincts. Fulton County is the only place that has a voting bus right now.

The Republican Senate Caucus bill overlaps some with another “omnibus” voting bill — one authored by Republicans on the other side of the state Capitol in the House.

House Bil 531 would end Sunday early voting, require ID for requesting a mail-in ballot and curtail use of ballot dropboxes. It would also ban county election boards from accepting private donations — the kind of cash that helped counties keep polls open longer during a pandemic.

But the two different omnibus bills aren’t the end of the overlap.

Take Senate Bill 67, which requires folks to include a state ID number or a photocopy of a state ID when they request an absentee ballot. It’s a narrow thing compared to the Republican omnibus bills.

Bill sponsor state Sen. Larry Walker III, R-Perry, called it a common-sense bill in answer to what he predicted is a permanent shift in how people choose to vote. He pointed out that to request a ballot via the online web portal, voters have to give an ID number. If they make that same request by mail, they don’t.

It’s necessary for Georgia to “modernize our process to adapt to this shift in order to maintain ballot security,” Walker said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Debate on the bill put the tension over voting rights on display.

Democratic state Sen. Sally Harrell, D-Atlanta, acknowledged that Georgia’s voting system isn’t perfect.

But Harrell said the biggest problem she heard about from her constituents was people showing up to the wrong polling place, confused about where they can vote on Election Day versus where they can cast an early ballot.

“The solutions we’re seeing proposed by the majority party aren’t addressing the real problems,” Harrell said from the Senate floor Tuesday. “They’re addressing a perception of a problem about voter fraud that our secretary of state, our lieutenant governor, our governor and multiple courts have all told us do not exist.”

Broadly, Democrats say these bills are the product of a Republican party in the House and Senate that’s suddenly losing key elections after a generation of Georgia wins.

Republican state senators passed Senate Bill 67 Tuesday with no Democratic support.

The hearing schedule for SB 240 has yet to be announced.  But with so much voting legislation, most every day in this half-finished session should bring some election-related battle.

Find out who your Georgia legislators are and how to contact them or follow them on social media with SaportaReport’s directory.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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