Stricter rules to identify those who vote by absentee ballot, as well as other election reform bills, inched closer to becoming law Tuesday after passing the state Senate.
Senate Bill 67, co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R-Carrollton) would require absentee voters to provide county election officials with the number on their driver’s license or official state ID card, or photocopies of a passport, employee ID card, utility bill or bank statement.
The Senate approved this bill largely along party lines, Dugan said, 35-18.
In an interview with the Times-Georgian on Tuesday, Dugan said Senate Bill 67 does away with the signature verification process for absentee ballots. He said that is “not an effective form” of validation. Currently, absentee ballots are verified based on voters’ signatures and registration information rather than an ID.
This bill was among four others passed in the Senate, marking the first election-focused measures to clear a General Assembly chamber in the 2021 legislative session. Each bill now goes to the state House of Representatives.
More than 1.3 million of Georgia’s five million voters cast absentee ballots in the November presidential election.
In December, the state’s GOP leadership vowed to overhaul Georgia’s current system of verifying signatures on mail-in ballot request forms and envelopes. The move followed the defeat of incumbent President Donald Trump to Democratic challenger Joe Biden by 11,779 votes and the twin defeats of the state’s incumbent Republican U.S. senators in January’s runoff.
Dugan previously told the Times-Georgian that reforming Georgia’s elections system has been talked about in the General Assembly before the 2020 general election in November. Dugan told the Times-Georgian last week he does “not get the argument” that these bills, if passed, would make it more difficult for residents to vote.
“The question came up in the bill where, ‘Well, you just made it harder for those who are disabled to make their mark to vote,’ ” Dugan said. “Well, no, we struck that requirement to make that mark. They just have to show their ID.”
Last week, the executive director of a voting rights advocacy group said in a statement that the election reform bills will make it harder for certain residents to vote. That was when the four bills were just being discussed in two Senate Ethics Committee subcommittees, and Dugan is a member of this committee.
“Both sides of the coin have used the same arguments for different reasons,” Dugan said on Friday. “If you’ve got an integrity concern that’s going on and we have the ability to address it and tighten it up to get rid of some of those concerns, we ought to do it.”
For those who do not have a driver’s license, he said the state gives away free voter ID cards that have an ID number on them that can be used as a form of identification.
“Georgia’s voters need to keep a watchful eye on these bills — and a watchful eye on the integrity of our elected officials,” Aunna Davis, the executive director of the voter advocacy group Common Cause Georgia, wrote. “Voting is the foundation of our government ‘by the people.’ It is how we, the people, have our voices heard and select our government representatives.”
Two other measures passed along party lines, according to the Capitol Beat News Service. Senate Bill 184 would shorten the time limit for local county elections offices to enter voting data into the state’s voter history system, while Senate Bill 188 would boost reporting requirements for the state’s election results website.
A fourth Senate bill — Senate Bill 40 — that gained unanimous approval on Tuesday would let county elections officials begin processing absentee ballots about a week before Election Day. This bill is sponsored by state Sen. Jen Jordan, (D-Atlanta).
Elections officials were able to open, but not process, any absentee ballots two weeks before Election Day after the state elections board passed an emergency rule ahead of the Nov. 3 general election.
The four bills that passed Tuesday are among a legislative package backed by Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who presides over the Senate. The state’s GOP leadership, including Gov. Brian Kemp, state House Speaker David Ralston, and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, also supporting tightening absentee voter ID rules.
Senate Bill 67 mirrors a proposal in a wide-ranging omnibus elections bill moving separately through the state House of Representatives.
House Bill 531 is a 59-page bill that contains roughly two dozen changes to the state’s election system and includes identification rules for voters and requiring absentee ballot drop boxes be located inside polling places. Early voting on Sundays would also be eliminated.
On Tuesday, Duncan issued a statement praising the Senate’s passage of his “common-sense election reform” package.
“Last month, I committed that I would only support common-sense election reforms and would work to modernize our election procedures to keep pace with changes in the way Georgians vote,” Duncan wrote. “I am focused on maintaining confidence in our electoral process and making it easy to vote and difficult to cheat. I am proud of this bipartisan package and the hard work of the individual bill sponsors. I look forward to the entire package reaching the Governor’s desk.”
The Capitol Beat News Service provided reporting for this article.