News, Politics

Lawmakers Prepare to Continue The Debate Over Election Reform in New Legislative Session

As Georgia’s General Assembly begins its 2021 session Monday, lawmakers have said they plan to address election reform.
As Georgia’s General Assembly begins its 2021 session Monday, lawmakers have said they plan to address election reform.
Credit Nick Nesmith / WABE
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This coverage is made possible through Votebeat, a nonpartisan reporting project covering local election integrity and voting access. The article is available for reprint under the terms of Votebeat’s republishing policy.

As Georgia’s General Assembly begins its 2021 session Monday, lawmakers have said they plan to address election reform.

This comes in response to persistent, yet unsubstantiated, claims from Republicans that the November general election, and more recent Senate runoffs, were beset with fraud.

Republican Speaker of the House David Ralston held a news conference Thursday to outline his party’s priorities for the legislative session. Ralston announced he plans to appoint a special House committee on election integrity.

“But, and let me be clear about this, our focus is not on looking back but on moving forward,” Ralston said.” We will devote the time and attention necessary to our election process, but it will not be all we do this session.”

Ralston said he had asked some of the members that he expects to be on the committee to consider eliminating the “jungle” or open primaries, where candidates from all political parties compete on the same ballot.

“I’m going to take a very cautious view on changing basic rules,” Ralston said. “I’m certainly going to listen to both sides of that and, frankly, I don’t know yet where I’m going to come down, but somebody’s going to have to make a real strong case to convince me.”

Use of the open primary resulted in a 21 contestant free-for-all race to fill the seat of former Sen. Johnny Isaakson when he stepped down for health reasons.

Given that Georgia requires candidates to receive more than 50 percent of the vote, it would be difficult for an individual to ever win a majority in the first round of voting with that many potential candidates.

The cost and traditionally lower turnout for a runoff are among the reasons that some Democrats are also on board with eliminating the open primary.

“I think that it’s a very expensive process, I think it’s a very contentious process, and I think that it’s time we have a real conversation in Georgia about ranked-choice voting,” said Rep. Teri Anulewicz (D-Smyrna).

Anulewicz said someone would also have to make a very compelling argument for her to support changes to absentee voting in Georgia because so far, the claims of widespread voter fraud “simply are not true.”

Democrats believe there might be another reason why Republicans are looking to alter Georgia’s election.

“Republicans have signaled that they want to make substantial changes to elections in Georgia. It seems obvious to every observer that the reason they do is because Democrats are winning statewide in Georgia,” said Rep. Josh McLaurin (D-Sandy Springs).

“As far as Democratic efforts, we believe that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’” McLaurin said.

McLaurin said he would support a move to ranked-choice voting to maximize voter participation but opposes any major changes to absentee voting or the Secretary of State’s responsibilities.

Lawmakers from both major parties stated that the top priority this session, as it is every year, will be reconciling the budget, the one bill they are required to pass.