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Georgia Republicans intend to suppress votes through measures large and small

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Georgia Republicans intend to suppress votes through measures large and small

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: A long line of voters gathered outside the Voter Registration and Elections Office on Oct. 12, the first day of early voting in the Nov. 3 elections. Photo by Dean Hesse

By Logan C. Ritchie, contributor 

Atlanta, GA — Georgia is once again at the center of a political storm as Republicans threaten to tighten laws surrounding elections. While legislation on voting is still anticipated, a bill in the House proposes to prohibit private funds to Election boards.

Introduced last week at the gold dome, HB62 could kill grant funding — like the $9.4 million DeKalb County Board of Voter Registration and Elections (VRE) received in 2020 from Center for Tech and Civic Life to pay for additional election staff, printing and ballot scanning machines and personal protective equipment. That money helped more than 373,000 people in DeKalb County vote in November’s general election.

DeKalb County VRE also used the grant money to create and translate election-related materials to Korean and Spanish, making the county one of the first to do so outside federal requirements. Representative Joseph Gullett (R-Dallas) sponsored HB62.

Limiting outside funds is just one way Republicans are putting up roadblocks. The state saw acts of disenfranchisement throughout the 2020 general election season, according to voters’ rights groups including League of Women Voters and Indivisible GA 04.

June’s primary, dubbed a “statewide meltdown” by DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond followed last-minute polling location changes, lack of advanced notifications to voters and absentee ballots lost in the mail. Thurmond called for a “comprehensive, top-to-bottom investigation into voting issues, including the Secretary of State’s preparation for and administration of this election.”

The November general election and January runoffs were smoother, thanks in part to an effort by the Republican Secretary of State to promote absentee voting. The Secretary of State created an absentee ballot request portal that voters could use. But following the results of the Nov. 3 election, which saw President Joe Biden win the state, the Secretary of State’s Office asked the state Legislature to end no excuse absentee voting, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Now, Georgia Democrats are watching for other methods of voter suppression.

Powerful Georgia Republicans are discussing changing the right of Georgia voters to vote by absentee ballot in significant ways, said state Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta).

Republicans want to eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots, remove ballot drop boxes and increase photo ID requirements for voting by mail.

Parent admitted the current signature match method could be improved upon, but voting by mail should remain accessible, fair and as safe as possible.

“If a photo ID requirement is put in, it cannot require the Internet, scanners or printers to use it. These things are not readily available to all Georgians, and the internet is not accessible in all parts of the state,” Parent said, adding that Georgians without drivers’ licenses need to be able to use another form of readily-accessible identification.

False claims regarding the 2020 elections promoted by Republicans are driving the push to suppress voting in Georgia.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger repeatedly rebutted false claims of fraud in Georgia’s recent elections. While Raffensperger won plaudits and respect from Democrats for defending the integrity of the state’s election, he also dog whistled to conspiracy theories surrounding absentee voting in asking the Legislature to limit Georgians ability to vote using absentee ballots.

“It makes no sense when we have three weeks of in-person early voting available. It opens the door to potential illegal voting,” Raffensperger told the House Governmental Affairs Committee, according to the AJC. “From a logistical challenge, it’s a tremendous burden on our counties” that run elections.

Lane Flynn, DeKalb County GOP chair, agreed that signature match is problematic.

“As much vitriol and as many fights as we’ve had over signature match, it would absolutely benefit everybody to have a system that is more secure and more reliable,” Flynn said. “Signature match is problematic, and it is not only Republicans who have found it to be so. When we have an issue and all parties agree there is a problem, let’s find a better way to do that.”

Flynn said Republicans have lost confidence in absentee ballots.

“Whether it’s justified or not, the level of confidence in the Republican party with absentee ballots is extremely low,” Flynn said, emphasizing both Democrats and Republicans should have an elections process and results they trust.

DeKalb County Democratic Committee Chair John Jackson says more restrictions hurt voters in large urban areas, and give an edge to Republicans.

“Voting should be easy. Originally, when we got this vote by mail in Georgia it was the Republicans who were the proponents of it. Now it’s worked against them because Donald Trump suppressed the vote by saying ‘Vote by mail doesn’t work. It’s fraud. It’s not real.’ Republicans didn’t use it as much as they could,” Jackson said. “But if Republicans had utilized vote by mail the way Democrats did, Georgia might have gone the other way.”

Jackson said Republicans are using cries of voter fraud to distract from more pressing issues, like COVID-19 and education.

“It comes down to this: The Republican Party should be doing an after-action report (AAR) about how they can appeal to more diverse population, and win with a fully engaged Georgia, but instead, they are choosing to attack democracy and basically come up with ways for less people to vote,” Jackson said. “Yes, they’re being sore losers, but even worse, they’re refusing to embrace democracy.”

Whether Republicans conduct an after action report, DeKalb County Voter Registration and Elections Board members are already planning one. Board members will review elections processes and prepare for future elections.

The National Vote at Home Institute (NVAHI) plans to present data on DeKalb County’s election cycle. Hillary Hall, senior advisor, said Georgia needs to improve the absentee ballot application process, improve preprocessing time at election offices and improve the ballot tracking process. She commended the state for “wanting voters to have a good experience during this absolutely unbelievable pandemic election year.”

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