Last Thursday, Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” Senate Bill 202, into law. The 95-page bill adds ID requirements for mail-in ballots, halts the acceptance of absentee ballots within 11 days of an election, and prohibits third-parties from providing gifts to voters waiting in line at a polling place.
“Significant reforms to our state elections were needed,” Kemp said upon signing the bill. “There’s no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled. And those problems, understandably, led to a crisis of confidence in the ballot box here in Georgia.”
Yet the legislation leaves out critical election security provisions that had been in two omnibus bills that moved through the House and Senate in March. Under pressure by Democrats and corporate media, Republican lawmakers ditched proposals to repeal no-excuse absentee voting and kept voting dramatically expanded in ways that helped fuel election chaos in 2020. Both proposals that were left out instead aimed to ensure Americans participate in an election day—not an election season.
As part of SB 241, a prior version of the Election Integrity Act, Republicans would have repealed no-excuse absentee voting, meaning reserving mail-in balloting for those who have reasons such as a disability. This would have encouraged most voters to show up to the polls in person and cast their vote in the most secure environment.
Whereas standard absentee voting requires a voter to clarify why he cannot show up to the polls in-person, no-excuse mail-in voting means that someone can ditch the most-secure in-person process for no reason at all. Mail-in is widely acknowledged as a voting process susceptible to much higher rates of error, fraud, and vote manipulation.
Senate Bill 241 passed on March 8 in the Senate with the aim of reserving absentee voting for those 65 years and up, with a disability, or for people out of town. Even though the GOP abandoned this in the eventual measure signed by Kemp, it passed 29 to 20 on March 8.
But something seems to have happened along the way. Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said the proposal was not included in Republican Sen. Max Burns’ SB 202 because it “seemed to cause consternation” among Democrats and interest groups.
In the 2020 presidential election, more than 1.3 million Georgians voted by mail, out of about 5 million voters total. In February, Carter Jones of the nonpartisan group Seven Hill Strategies in Atlanta produced a 14-page report outlining “myriad problems” with mail-in voting in Fulton County, Georgia, in Atlanta. Jones spent an estimated 270 hours observing the county’s election processes from the months of October to January.
The consultant claims absentee ballots led to “sloppy data entry” and “sloppy and replete” procedures. Joe Biden won a little over 72 percent of the large county, where a county judge is now seriously considering the unsealing of ballots after a lawsuit was dismissed in December.
” …SHS received multiple reports of absentee ballots being sent to the wrong addresses, which seems to be the fault of sloppy data entry by staff. Future staff trainings should underscore the importance of correctly entering the temporary/preferred addresses of all ballot applicants,” wrote Jones. “Although Fulton County allocated ample resources for absentee ballot processing leading into the general elections, the processes themselves were extremely sloppy and replete with chain of custody issues as the massive tide of ballots bounced around the Fulton Gov’t HQ building.” Chain of custody means opportunities for ballots to be unsecured and available to people who are not legally allowed to handle them.
Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state in Georgia, acknowledged problems with no-excuse mail-in voting after being criticized by former President Donald Trump for his handling of election security. “It opens the door to potential illegal voting,” Raffensperger said at a hearing before the House Governmental Affairs Committee in December. He added that mass mail-in voting is a “tremendous burden” on state counties seeking to process votes in a timely manner.
While Georgia has had no-excuse mail-in voting since 2005, many states drastically expanded mail-in balloting more than a year prior to or leading up to the 2020 election, claiming concerns about COVID-19 although the CDC belatedly said it was safe to vote in person even if testing COVID-positive. Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed an election bill in 2019, Act 77, that legalized no-excuse mail-in ballots. A lawsuit in the commonwealth from 2020 claimed that the mass mail balloting system violated the state constitution.
The president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association, Joseph V. Camposeo, detailed the various issues that come from such a process in 2011. “Under a no-excuse system there is no way to guarantee the applicant is voting the ballot,” Camposeo said. “The absentee voting system already has been the focus of forgery, coercion, bribery and multiple-voting complaints.”
While no-excuse remote voting drags out elections, which is expensive and can make it difficult for workers to process information accurately, the GOP did not stand resolute on this. Georgia Republicans put the provision aside in order to appease Democrats, who believe their interests are served by lax election security. Why has the legislature not also acted to prevent ballot harvesting and pressure on those voting by mail? It’s not clear.
Part of House Bill 531, authored by Rep. Barry Fleming and five other Republicans, would reduce early voting on Sundays to align with other governmental and private institutions’ normal hours. It would limit Sunday voting prior to election day to one optional day in each county.
“Our goal in this bill is to make sure that Georgia’s election results get back quickly and accurately,” Fleming said. “The way we begin to restore confidence in our voting system is by passing this bill. There are many commonsense measures here to begin that process.”
Fleming’s bill did not receive enough GOP votes to advance to the full chamber.
In 2020, the Democratic Party was able to capitalize off COVID-19 and institute widespread mail-in ballot procedures, which are widely acknowledged to be highly susceptible to error and fraud. Mail-in balloting caused jarring headaches and lawsuits across the country. Secure, same-day, in-person elections provide a sense of confidence in the process for voters and reduce opportunities for error, fraud, and lack of confidence in the integrity of the vote.
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