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Georgia GOP seeks to tighten voting rules after spate of losses
Georgia Republicans are pushing a series of new voting rules that would clamp down on or roll back many of the policies that helped drive Democratic turnout in recent elections.
The measures being introduced in the GOP-controlled state legislature include efforts to ban automatic voter registration and the use of drop boxes for returning absentee ballots. Another proposal seeks to do away with a state law that allows voters to cast absentee ballots without an excuse for doing so.
The new push for voting restrictions comes after Democrats scored a slew of victories in Georgia in late 2020 and early 2021.
In November, President Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state in nearly three decades. That victory was followed in January by Democratic wins in a pair of Senate runoffs that effectively ended Republican control of the upper chamber.
Some calls for stricter voting requirements have already won support from top Republicans in the state, who argue they're necessary to fight voter fraud and election malfeasance - despite the fact that Georgia officials, including Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have repeatedly debunked claims of systemic irregularities in the election.
In an interview with the "Ruthless" podcast released on Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said that state lawmakers should look at ways to make it "easy to vote" but "hard to cheat," suggesting a photo ID requirement for absentee ballots.
"I do think there's things that we need to do, seeing how many people voted absentee, the demand and the volume is significantly more than we've ever seen in the past," Kemp said. "I think that gives us some reasoning to go into this session, which we're doing now and consider other ways to make it easy to vote in Georgia, but also hard to cheat."
Taken at face value, Republicans say the proposed rules are necessary to prevent voter fraud and restore eroding confidence in the democratic process after former President Trump spent months calling the 2020 election results into question and seeking to reverse his electoral loss.
A report released on Tuesday by the Georgia GOP outlined a list of recommendations for reforming the state's election processes in the wake of 2020. Among the recommendations: ending no-excuse absentee ballots, barring third-party groups and state and local officials from sending absentee ballot request forms to voters and putting a stop to automatic voter registration.
"The 2020 election revealed dramatic weaknesses in Georgia's system for conducting elections, and as a result, public confidence in the integrity of that system has been shattered," the report reads. "Public confidence cannot be restored by pretending that these weaknesses do not exist. A problem must first be recognized before it can be solved."
Still, the efforts have clear political undertones. One of the proposals recommended by the Georgia GOP's Election Confidence Task Force calls for the state Elections Division to be placed under the purview of the state Elections Board, effectively stripping the secretary of state's office of its elections oversight duties.
Raffensperger ran afoul of Trump and his allies after defending the state's handling of its elections and pushing back against the former president's assertions that the presidential contest had been stolen from him. Trump continued to make the claims despite courts repeatedly tossing out his team's legal challenges to the election results.
Several of the election reform proposals from both legislators and the state GOP appear geared toward addressing the complaints of Trump and his campaign, who frequently spread baseless claims that widespread absentee voting would lead to rampant election fraud.
Looming over the efforts, as well, are Sens. Jon Ossoff's (D-Ga.) and Raphael Warnock's (D-Ga.) dual victories in last month's runoffs, when Democratic voters in the state set a new record for turnout in a non-regularly scheduled election.
Ossoff, who defeated first-term incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), will keep his seat for the next six years.
But Warnock, who beat Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) to serve out the rest of former Sen. Johnny Isakson's (R-Ga.) term, will appear on the ballot once again in 2022, giving Republicans an opportunity to quickly reclaim one of Georgia's Senate seats.
Democrats largely benefited from widespread absentee voting in Georgia. In both the 2020 general election and the Jan. 5 runoffs, absentee voting in more Democratic-leaning parts of the state outpaced that in redder areas, giving Democrats an early turnout advantage while Republicans put their hopes in high Election Day turnout.
There is some public support for stricter voting rules. A poll released late last month by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the University of Georgia found that 55 percent of registered voters in the state believe it is more important to add additional safeguards to prevent fraud than to make the voting process easy for eligible voters.
That poll also showed that 74 percent of voters support the proposed photo ID requirement for absentee voting.
But that same survey showed majorities of Georgia voters opposing the efforts to eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes and do away with no-excuse absentee voting.
On the measure preventing third-party groups and state officials from mailing out absentee ballot request forms, slightly more Georgians said they oppose it than support it - 49.1 percent to 47.5 percent, according to the poll.
Democrats have vowed to fight the proposed voting restrictions in Georgia, accusing Republicans of running an orchestrated voter suppression campaign in an effort to head-off future electoral losses in a state that has become one of the fastest-growing and most diverse battlegrounds on the map - and one with a long history of voter suppression.
"Georgia Republicans' blatantly anti-democratic agenda only further solidifies their legacy of clinging to voter suppression as political opportunism, instead of competing in fair elections," said Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party.
"The right to vote is sacred, and efforts to make voting more difficult are an affront to our democracy," she added.
In a recent fundraising email, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the Democrats' state legislative campaign arm, warned that the proposed changes to Georgia's election laws would effectively "rig the playing field" in the GOP's favor.
"Republicans have decided that they cannot win fair elections, so they're doing their worst to make future elections unfair," the email reads. "All of these changes - should they become law - will make it so much harder to vote, which is exactly what Republicans want."
And Fair Fight, a voting rights organization founded by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D), vowed to oppose the bills introduced by state Senate Republicans last week, arguing they were "designed to limit access and help Republicans stop losing elections in Georgia."