Voting in Georgia two years from now will look different for several reasons. For one, the state and the rest of the country hopefully will be on the other side of a global pandemic and not in the middle of one.
Also, if Georgia Republicans have their way, a number of election reform bills will be passed this year that will change the way thousands of voters in the state cast their ballots in local, state, gubernatorial and presidential elections.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said the 2020 election was one of the smoothest in state history.
Several bills are on the table more than halfway through this year's legislative session. Some will be killed, some may be amended and some will pass. Here's an overview of what has been introduced, changed and what is likely to pass, as well as how Northwest Georgia's elected officials feel about the changes.
At the beginning of the session, Georgia state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, had co-sponsored a handful of election reform bills that he and his Republican colleagues said were aimed at securing the state's election process.
Mullis also was one of dozens of Georgia Republicans who signed onto Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's failed lawsuit that sought to invalidate Georgia's votes in the presidential election before the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was clear early on that Mullis and other prominent Republicans in Georgia would have election reform as their top priority as they heard from people back home their fears that the election process was not up to par, mainly stemming from former President Trump's unsuccessful claims of voter fraud.
Republicans continued to call Georgia a red state during the runoff elections while campaigning for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. They also said Georgia would never be a blue state.
The Democratic wins in January reflected what political scientists told the Times Free Press after President Joe Biden's victory: that the state has been trending blue for years.
The first slate of reform bills would — among other things — have done away with Georgia's no-excuse absentee voting, required those who are eligible for absentee voting to submit a form of ID and banned ballot drop boxes. Georgia has had no-excuse absentee voting since a Republican-led Legislature approved it in 2005.
Another bill states that if a voter relocates to Georgia after a November general election that person could not participate in any resulting runoff election.
A few days later, Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, introduced House Bill 531 to the Special Committee on Election Integrity. One of the biggest changes in Fleming's bill was the elimination of early voting on any other day except one scheduled Saturday. Every county would have the same early voting schedule. This included Sunday voting, which is popular among Black voters and organizers that hold "souls to the polls" events.
The bill also would have shortened the time frame within which people could request absentee ballots and when county election officials could send them out.
On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate passed four of the earlier bills introduced, including the requirement for absentee-by-mail applications to include a form of identification.
In a hearing before the vote, Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, gave an emotional speech and said through tears that he didn't want to tell people back home that he took away their right to vote.
Lucas' colleagues at the hearing said they respected his passion but disagreed with his understanding of the changes. Other bills that were floated — including one that would have eliminated no-excuse absentee voting — were shut down.
Democrats were able to get a bill passed that would allow county election officials to count absentee votes a week before Election Day, to speed up the counting process.
Another 25-page bill in the Senate was floated and backed by nearly every Republican Senator, including all of those in Northwest Georgia. That bill, SB 241, would limit who is eligible to vote by mail and require applications for those absentee ballots to be made under oath.
This bill — the strictest to come out of session so far — has caused a lot of bipartisan disagreement among lawmakers. One morning, lawmakers arrived at the Capitol building in a truck with a sign that read, "Georgia Republicans Don't Want Black People To Vote." The mobile billboard was paid for by a new organization called Turnout Democrats.
Sen. Mullis and Sen. Chuck Payne, R-Dalton, are both cosponsors of the bill.
Late Friday afternoon, the Senate Ethics Committee voted to approve a number of Mullis' early bills that would end automatic voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting. A few hours before, Democratic lawmakers gathered for a sit-in in opposition to HB 531.
Contact Patrick Filbin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.
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