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Top Republican Georgia Lawmaker Proposes Major Overhaul Of Absentee Ballot Voting

A worker at the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections works to process absentee ballots at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena in November. Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s plan joins a chorus of election-related law changes that have already been introduced by Republican and Democratic state lawmakers after a contentious 2020 election in which allegations of voter fraud took center stage.
A worker at the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections works to process absentee ballots at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena in November. Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s plan joins a chorus of election-related law changes that have already been introduced by Republican and Democratic state lawmakers after a contentious 2020 election in which allegations of voter fraud took center stage.
Credit John Bazemore / Associated PRess file
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The majority leader of the Georgia Senate unveiled plans Wednesday for major changes to the state’s election laws that would strengthen state oversight of election officials and add more identification requirements to absentee ballot voting, including elimination of no-excuse absentee voting with certain exceptions.

The omnibus proposal would also add stipulations to absentee ballot drop box locations and place restrictions on absentee ballot applications sent by third-party groups. He is expected to introduce the plan soon.

“There is nothing in there that says we are going to try to limit legal voters from voting,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Republican from Carrollton, said about his proposal. 

Dugan’s plan joins a chorus of election-related law changes that have already been introduced by Republican and Democratic state lawmakers after a contentious 2020 election in which allegations of voter fraud took center stage. Dugan’s bill follows a December statement from the Senate Republican caucus pledging to make changes to the state’s election system. 

“You have not heard me say ‘fraud’ in here one time; you have not heard me say ‘broad election irregularities,’” he said. “But I will say that both sides have lost the sense of security with election integrity.”

State election officials have repeatedly said there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election cycle in Georgia. And while Democrats have been loud critics of the state’s voter list maintenance program and costs associated with the new voting machines, they have not doubted the integrity of the 2020 elections.

The idea of ending no-excuse absentee voting, even with exceptions, has been controversial among Republican leaders in Georgia.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has supported it. But Gov. Brian Kemp, House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan have been reluctant to support the idea. All the officials, however, have been supportive of photo identification requirements for all absentee ballots.

“I don’t know if it’s a problem existing right now that we’re trying to solve,” Dugan said of ending no-excuse absentee voting. “As much as it’s creating the importance of the act [of voting].”

Dugan said these are not new ideas and argued much of the controversy around voting in Georgia dates back to the 2018 gubernatorial election when Democrats were on the losing side, a characterization Democrats have rejected.

Democratic election-related bills in Georgia recently have largely focused on expanding voting access. Republican bills have largely focused on increasing security measures for absentee ballot voting, which has been an object of focus for Republicans since votes cast by that method heavily favored Democratic candidates this past election cycle.

The Georgia Senate was a high-profile venue for many of these allegations, through several committee hearings where many unproven election fraud allegations were broadcast by people including former President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. 

A collection of other voting bills were introduced by another Republican Senate leader, state Sen. Jeff Mullis, earlier this week, some of which overlap with Dugan’s proposal, but others go further, including a proposed elimination of all absentee ballot drop boxes

Democrats have maintained a constant opposition to any additional restrictions on voting security. In response to the earlier group of bills proposed by Mullis this week, Democratic state Sen. Tonya Anderson, chairwoman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, called the package “an orchestrated attempt to undermine the political shift our state is undergoing” and pledged to “vigorously fight to prevent passage of these anti-voting bills.”

State Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat from Atlanta, spoke out on the Senate floor Wednesday in opposition to the slate of election bills already introduced by Mullis.

“Filing a plethora of voting bills, many of which are intended to restrict access to the vote, is itself an act of fraud,” Parent said.

Parent said that passing legislation that adds restrictions to voting is not a winning strategy because it will make it harder for all Georgians to vote, Republican and Democrat.