Georgia lawmakers to consider limiting absentee voting; push to limit drop box hours rejected

Georgia lawmakers to consider limiting absentee voting, Fulton judge rejects GOP lawsuit to limit drop box hours

ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers are set to consider a measure that would limit absentee voting by requiring an approved reason to vote by mail. The controversial proposal preceded a Christmas Eve rejection of a GOP lawsuit that sought to limit absentee ballot drop box hours.

The state’s chief elections officer asked lawmakers to consider the measure during a House Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, citing the potential for fraud and unprecedented volume that’s handled by county elections officers.

“It makes no sense when we have three weeks of in-person, early voting available,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “It opens the door to potential illegal voting, especially in light of the federal rules that denies the ability to keep voter registration files clean.”

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“I think, you know, the way our laws are set up …. The way our elections offices are set up in each county, it’s not set up to have a massive absentee by mail system like we had this year,” added legal counsel Ryan Germany, following an inquiry about the motive from State Representative Bee Nguyen.

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The state has not revealed any widespread mail-in voting fraud, and has enlisted the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to undergo an unprecedented limited signature match audit in Cobb County. President Trump’s top aide came to Georgia this week, asking state elections leaders about the investigation process. The office has maintained that conducting the audit is an effort to show the mail-in voting process worked properly.

If lawmakers push the proposal through, it will be the first time in 15 years Georgians would need an approved reason -- like a disability—in order to obtain a mail-in ballot. Sixteen other states require an excuse to obtain a mail-in ballot. Five of those states scaled back on those measures ahead of the General Election, citing the pandemic. Colorado and Utah represent the rare places in which states only vote by mail.

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The method had strong bipartisan support during the pandemic and leading up to an election in which a record 1.3 million Georgians took advantage of the absentee voting method.

Raffensperger’s office encouraged voters to request and return the ballots early. As Republican leadership, including President Trump, cast doubt on the process following Trump’s November defeat, they also championed it.

Earlier this month, Vice President Mike Pence encouraged a crowd in Augusta to request absentee ballots ahead of the January Senate runoffs, even as the party continued to face legal rejections for fraud claims that were rooted in the process.

“You have until December 31st to request an absentee ballot and I want you to be confident about your vote,” Pence told the crowd.

Voting rights groups are calling foul on the proposal.

“Georgia has long had no-excuse absentee voting, long before we were in this pandemic moment,” said Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project. “Any attempt to curb it, or get rid of it is partisan and anti-democratic.”

“In a free society, we do not hinder people’s access to the ballot, Ufot continued.” And if that is the game that they want to play, they have to be prepared for a backlash from not only democracy advocates but from just ordinary Georgians who are going to ask ‘What are y’all doing?’”

On Christmas Eve, a Fulton County judge also dismissed a GOP challenge that sought to limit drop box hours to normal business hours instead of being available 24/7 ahead of the runoffs.

A state law already mandates the boxes to being under video surveillance that’s preserved by the counties. The boxes are also mandated to be locked by 7 p.m. on Election Day, the same time polling locations close.