Senate Republicans plan to eliminate at-will absentee voting in Georgia and outlaw ballot drop boxes when the Legislature convenes in January.
On Tuesday, the state Senate majority caucus issued a statement on the elections process, saying they have “heard the calls of millions of Georgians who have raised deep and heartfelt concerns that state law has been violated and our elections process has been abused in our Nov. 3 elections.”
The furor over absentee ballots erupted after President-elect Joe Biden wrangled a narrow victory over President Donald Trump, a rare Democratic victory in the state. Biden won the state with a nearly 12,000-vote margin, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won the Peach State since 1992.
Since the election, various state and federal officials, including Trump, have issued calls for the results of the election to be overturned. However, the state’s Republican leadership has certified the results of the election after three recounts, creating a serious schism within the state GOP.
One proposal advanced by some Republican lawmakers was to call a special election to award the state’s 16 electoral votes to Trump instead of to Biden. However, both Gov. Brian Kemp and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan have said that will not be possible.
“Our state constitution precludes us from calling a special session due to the lack of a three-fifths majority in both chambers,” the Senate majority’s statement said. “As constitutionalists, we must respect that. Even if we could secure the requisite numbers to convene, our laws provide no avenue for us to retroactively alter the results from Nov. 3, 2020.”
The statement came with a list of seven items of what the majority caucus will do when the Legislature convenes, including calling upon elections officials to engage with the state Bureau of Investigation to investigate any voter fraud, including those brought forth by residents during two Senate committee hearings last week.
The Times-Georgian tried to contact several Democratic legislators, but none had responded by press time on Tuesday.
As soon as the Senate can convene, lawmakers will pass legislation to reverse the “detrimental effects of the consent decree which was entered into in March 2020.” The Georgia General Assembly convenes in January.
The GOP leadership also wants to get rid of the drop boxes for ballots that have been used by millions of voters across the state who requested absentee ballots this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to their statement.
“Drop boxes are not legal in Georgia law,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton. “We have them, and I understand why we got them. They came as part of the emergency procedures of the pandemic so that people could drop their ballots off at a location.
“The intent of the location is to be in proximity to an elections office, and then we had out-of-state private entities dump millions of dollars in specific counties in Georgia to put these things all over the place.”
Georgia residents have been able to request an absentee ballot without a reason since 2005, and the GOP leadership wants to reform the election laws to eliminate at-will absentee voting. Photo identification will be required for absentee voting for cause, and legislators will “crack down on ballot harvesting” by outlawing drop boxes.
Dugan said he does not understand why anyone would have hesitation about requiring a photo identification with their absentee ballots.
“If we have multiple ways to register to vote and they all require some type of identification, then mail-in voting should as well,” he said.
County elections officials are also being asked to “immediately preserve all data” from the Nov. 3 general election in order to conduct a forensic audit.
Each county is also being called on to perform an audit of absentee ballot signatures, a topic of debate among state legislators, including Dugan.
“This is stuff that the governor is already asking the secretary of state to do,” Dugan told the Times-Georgian on Tuesday evening. “If we’ve got the integrity of our elections in question, and we have the ability to answer some of those questions, we ought to.”
Dugan said the secretary, Brad Raffensperger, will do everything he can to dissuade residents from other states moving into Georgia to vote in the January runoffs.
“He didn’t have the funding to do his job, so we are going to give him the funding he requires,” Dugan said. He did not specify how much money this will be, but he said it could be either partial or complete funding. “You can’t have an obligation to perform a duty. We need to make sure he’s got the resources that are required.”
Public hearings will continue through Jan. 5, the date of the runoffs for the two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia. Sen. David Perdue is being challenged by Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff, while Sen. Kelly Loeffler is squaring off against the Rev. Raphael Warnock in these two races.
Senate lawmakers are also calling upon Raffensperger to immediately release a certified list of all voters in the November election as well as a list of all newly registered voters in Georgia between Oct. 5 and Dec. 7.
These leaders also say they will pass legislation to “reverse the detrimental effects” of a consent decree between Raffensperger and Democratic organizations in March to settle a lawsuit by the Democrats against Georgia over how signature matching is done.
This decree is the subject of a new lawsuit filed in the U.S. Supreme Court by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Tuesday, in which he accuses Georgia elections officials of illegally changing the rules for voter signature verification and the early opening of absentee ballots, according to the Capitol Beat news service. The lawsuit also involves Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
“There is a question about some of the legality of that decree, and that’s what Texas is suing us about,” Dugan said. “[Raffensperger] took a legislative act and made an executive decision on it. We’ll just see here if the Supreme Court takes it up and where it goes.”
The Capitol Beat News Service contributed reporting for this article.