ATLANTA. Butch Miller, the Republican leader of the Georgia State Senate, is running for lieutenant governor and will face a tough fight this spring with a major opponent backed by former President Donald Trump.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that Mr. Miller, co-sponsor of the state’s sweeping and restrictive voting law last year, is back in the fray, pushing for a new measure to ban absentee ballot boxes, which he says will improve safety – although no problems with their use by voters have been confirmed.
“Trash bins are the weakest link in our electoral security,” Mr. Miller said in a statement. “This change removes the weakest link without doing anything to prevent access. It’s actually easier to vote early in person – and we allow many more days for this than most states.”
Georgia was key to President Biden’s victory as well as the Democratic takeover of the Senate, and for the second year in a row, the state’s Republicans have focused on voting restrictions. Mr. Miller’s proposal is among new bills that highlight how Republicans have taken Mr. Trump’s false narrative that election fraud cost him the 2020 election.
One measure being considered would allow Georgians to use paper ballots if they have concerns about newly acquired touch-screen voting machines that have been the subject of fanciful fraud allegations made public by some Mr. Trump supporters.
Another proposal would allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to begin investigating allegations of voter fraud. Another will amend the constitution to prohibit non-citizens from voting, even if they are already disenfranchised under current state law.
At the same time, the Fulton County Board of Elections, the state’s most populous and Democratic stronghold, is the subject of a state investigation into its governance practices. Theoretically, this investigation could lead to a Republican takeover. local election commission, made possible by the 2021 election law.
The investigation and new proposals in the Republican-controlled legislature have sparked renewed anger among Democrats, who believe the measures could contribute to an already unfair state playing field, with numerous Trump-backed candidates running for office across the state. .
“The most worrying thing is that the people who hold power in the General Assembly with an iron grip feel that they must continue to suppress the vote in order to maintain this iron grip,” said David Worley, a Democrat and former member of the state. election Committee. “And they are willing to try any method available to do so.”
While Republicans dominate the state legislature, some of the proposals could be, at best, performative gestures by lawmakers seeking to show the party base that they are responding to Trump-fuelled fears of voter fraud. A measure that would expand the role of the state bureau of investigation, backed by influential House Speaker David Ralston, may have the best chance of success.
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, was less enthusiastic this week about going far beyond the 2021 voting bill, which he called “the No. 1 election integrity law in the nation.”
In 2020, Georgia was a Democratic mainstay more than any other state, said Larry Sabato, veteran political analyst and director of the University of Virginia’s Policy Center. The Republican stronghold not only defected to Biden, but handed over the Senate to him.
“That’s why the new voting rules in Georgia and other countries are so important,” he said. “Will they pick up enough votes in the Democratic column to put the Republicans back in the driver’s seat? If the Republican Party sees that voter suppression does not pay a fine, it will certainly encourage Republicans to do it wherever they can get away with it.”
He added: “In both 2022 and 2024, Georgia will be the canary in the coal mine. And it’s a damn big canary.
In a year when Republican-led legislatures imposed new voting restrictions across the country, the election law that Georgia lawmakers passed last spring was not so much strict as it was specific. The measure targeted a record 1.3 million absentee votes cast last November, with a disproportionate number of Democrats. He did this by drastically restricting the use of mailboxes favored by mail-in voters, introducing identification requirements for absentee ballots, and placing tough barriers to distribution of mail-in voting statements by both local authorities and voting groups.
In addition, the law allowed the state to seize district election commissions, prohibited mobile voting stations in Democratic Atlanta, and even prohibited residents from giving food and water to voters waiting in line at the polls.
The 2021 statute has drawn a number of legal objections, including from the US Department of Justice, which claims the law violates the federal Voting Rights Act by making voting difficult and that it was racially motivated. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game out of state in protest.
State law, as well as federal voting rights law, praised by Mr. Biden during a visit to Atlanta this week, are expected to be at the center of upcoming statewide campaigns. The gubernatorial race is likely to pit the nation’s most prominent voting rights campaigner, Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, either with Mr. Kemp, whom Ms. Abrams openly accused of voter suppression in her 2018 race against him, or with former Senator David Purdue. , Mr. Kemp’s arch rival for the Republican Party, who backed Mr. Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud.
On Tuesday, Mr. Kemp, at a press conference leading up to Mr. Biden’s speech, defended the 2021 election law, saying the Biden administration “lied” about it – referring to Mr. Biden’s false claim that that the law “abolishes voting hours”. early.”
He accused Mr. Biden, Ms. Abrams and Vice President Kamala Harris of backlash against the law, including losing the All-Star Game, which he said cost the state $100 million. He warned that the federal voting rights laws that Biden pushed for were a political takeover by Democrats.
“Make no mistake,” he said, “Georgia is the epicenter of Biden-Harris attacks on election integrity, as well as attempts to federalize everything from how hard-working Georgians run their businesses to what our kids are taught in school. to how we conduct elections.”
Mr. Kemp and Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, have both topped Mr. Trump’s enemies list for defying the former president’s demands that they help undo his minor electoral defeat in Georgia.
Numerous requests. Since former President Donald Trump left office, there have been many inquiries and investigations into his business and personal affairs. Here is a list of those that are ongoing:
Like Mr. Kemp, Mr. Raffensperger has sought to show Republican voters that he has his own concerns about the integrity of elections in Georgia. He has been one of the loudest voices calling for a state constitutional amendment to ban non-citizens from voting, and at a press conference on Tuesday, he called for a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution, noting that non-citizen voting in municipal elections is now legal in such places. like New York.
Mr. Raffensperger is engaged in a tough primary fight with Trump-backed ultra-conservative congressional candidate Rep. Jody Hayes, whose support of Mr. Trump’s allegations of fraud included signing a Supreme Court case aimed at overturning the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia. and three other states.
If Mr. Hayes wins the general election, “there is a strong possibility that Georgia’s electoral vote will move into the Republican column in 2024, regardless of the popular vote,” Mr. Sabato said. “It can be easily copied in other swing states with right-wing GOP secretaries of state and state legislatures.”
In a state where Mr. Biden won by less than 12,000 votes, even a slight drop in turnout could be enough to turn a potential Democratic victory into a defeat. year.
Some of the results of the 2021 law are already evident.
After the measure eliminated more than three out of every four ballot boxes in the Atlanta metropolitan area, the share of voters using ballot boxes was cut by about half in the region’s municipal elections in November, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week. The ballot boxes were completely closed on the Friday before Election Day — just when voters who forgot to mail their ballots needed them the most.
In six predominantly rural districts, the legislature has given Republican-dominated conservative judges or district commissions control of some or all local election commission appointments. One of the newly formed councils has already completed early voting on Sunday, a tradition among Democrat-leaning black voters.
Together, the six counties cast 33,400 votes for Mr. Biden in 2020, about three times his statewide majority.
“They control who registers, whose ballots are counted,” said Helen Butler, leader of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and a Democrat who was ousted from the Morgan County board in June. “There are a lot of things you can do to prevent people from exercising their right to vote, and there is full control and access.”
Close scrutiny of the electoral system has also drawn the unwanted attention of a number of once obscure local government officials. Fulton County Electoral Director Rick Barron announced his resignation in November.
Janetta Watson, head of elections at the Macon Bibb County government, also resigned last week, writing that “excessive workload” and “fast-changing election laws, policies and procedures” have “taken a toll on my mental health.” “.