Hot topic omnibus bills set the table for election reform

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ATLANTA – Ga. – Despite the backlash from Democrats, Republican state lawmakers are eager to push two omnibus bills aimed at election reform as the legislative session goes into full throttle.

If the Special Committee on Election Integrity wasn’t busy with legislation earlier this month, it is now. In February alone, the committee has more than tripled the assigned bills. While many of the proposed pieces of legislation have been stand-alone bills aimed at one specific issue, a couple broadly encompass many of these issues into one enormous bill. House Bill 531 does just that.

Jan Jones

Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones

After hours of testimony over several days, the Republican-led committee decided to green light HB 531.  The 21-page bill brings together many hot-button issues Republican lawmakers were looking to resolve during the legislative session. Introduced by the committee’s Chairman Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), the bill carries a partisans whos who of co-sponsors, including Speaker Pro-Tempore Jan Jones (R – Milton). Having Jones as a so-sponsor is a good indicator of the bill’s strength. If passed, here’s what the bill would do:

  • Requires ID for absentee ballots
  • Limits Sunday voting
  • Limits the number of days a voter can request an absentee ballot.
  • Puts limitations on ballot drop boxes.
  • Ends mobile voter (e.g., buses to polls), excluding emergencies.
  • Ends third-party funding.

The Senate has their own omnibus bill.  Introduced by Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R – Carrollton), Senate Bill 241 has co-sponsors to all but three members: Sens. Kay Kirkpatrick (R – Marietta), John Albers (R – Roswell), and Brian Strickland (R – McDonough). All three face stiff reelection in their districts. Like the House version, the 25-page legislation is not received well by Democrats. Here are some points of interest regarding SB 241:

  • Ends no-excuse absentee voting.
  • Empowers the state to remove election supervisors temporarily.
  • Ends unsolicited absentee ballots.
  • Ends mobile voter (e.g., buses to polls), excluding emergencies.
  • Establishes a voter hotline.

Republicans have a history of cringing when it comes to omnibus legislation. However, it’s the party leading the charge to assure that it isn’t an armchair quarterback for election reform law. Earlier this month, an Election Confidence Task Force, set up under the Georgia Republican Party’s State Executive Committee, published a report with a list of the solutions it wanted lawmakers to address during this session. Rebecca Yardley, who chairs the 9 Congressional District for Republicans, was clear about her expectations from lawmakers when she addressed supporters at a Towns County GOP event last week.

“We as grassroots activists have got to spend the remainder of this legislative session ensuring that we are staying on top of our legislators to get some election integrity enacted in the Georgia legislature, said Yardley. “I’m proud to say that your Georgia Republican Party is leading the way on that.”

Nikema Williams

Congresswoman Nikema Williams

Both pieces of legislation have gotten their share of hate. On Thursday, a large crowd took to the streets outside the state capital in opposition to what they say see as blatant voter suppression. Congresswoman Nikema Williams (D – Columbus) didn’t hold back her objections in a press release by Georgia Democrats.

“Georgia Republicans are hell-bent on suppressing the vote because they realized they could not win when more Georgians cast a ballot,” said Williams. “Not only would the Republican-sponsored legislation passed through the Senate today fail to improve our election system – it would also create the type of chaotic post-election situations in which false, far-right conspiracy theories flourish.”

Noticeably absent around these two omnibus bills is Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. In testimony earlier this week, Rev. James Woodall of Georgia’s NAACP told Fleming that the silence from the Secretary of State’s office should give Republicans pause as they look to pass these two pieces of legislation.

“It saddens me that we have not heard directly from the Secretary of State himself,” said Woodall. “The duly elected Secretary of State has not made public comment about this piece of legislation, and I think that’s important for this committee to consider.”

When FYN reached out to the Secretary of State’s office, we were told that Sec. Raffensperger doesn’t comment on pending legislation. His office did assure FYN that the Secretary continues to have an open dialogue with all stakeholders.

Full Plate for Special Elections Committee

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ATLANTA, Ga. – House members assigned to the Special Committee on Election Integrity currently have a full plate as they sort through numerous bills with more expected to drop.

Before the session, Speaker David Ralston (R – Blue Ridge) expressed the importance of a committee dedicated to tackling voter confidence after the divisive Presidential and Senate elections of 2020 and 2021.

“Many Georgians are concerned about the integrity of our election system. Some of those concerns may or may not be well-founded, but there may be others that are,” said Ralston while speaking at a Chamber of Commerce event.

Rep. Barry Fleming

With a lot riding on the hot button issue, Ralston tapped fellow Republican and lawyer Rep. Barry Fleming (R – Harlem) as Chairman to the Special Committee on Election Integrity.

“I am excited and humbled that Speaker Ralston and the Committee on Assignments has entrusted me with this committee chairmanship on such a vital issue,” Fleming said in a press release.

As of February 4, 14 different pieces of legislation have been sent to the committee for review. On the Senate side, Members of the Senate Ethics Committee are dealing with another 17 election-related bills.

Only one bill, HB 59, carries bipartisan support. In summary, the legislation would create an instant runoff election, also known as a ranked-choice system for military and overseas voters. HB 59 is authored by Rep. Wes Cantrell (R – Woodstock). Also, Rep. Health Clark (R – Warner Robins) and Bonnie Rich (R – Suwanee), have co-sponsored the legislation.

Rep. Bee Nguyen (D – Atlanta), one of three Democrats to co-sponsor the bill, stated, “The bipartisan bill on rank-choice voting is a step in the right direction and would reduce the cost of running elections in the state of Georgia.”

A cautious Ralston previously commented that he would need a “real strong case to convince him” of anything that would challenge Georgia’s no-excuse absentee voting system.

So far, similar legislation has fallen along partisan lines. After social media giant Mark Zuckerberg donated 400 million dollars in the 2020 election cycle, Republican lawmakers have vowed to put an end to private funding aimed at what conservatives feel unfairly influences elections. 42 Georgia counties received private grant money last year. Authored by Rep. Joseph Gullett (R – Dallas), HB 62 would bar local elections officials from accepting private funds. HB 62 currently has five co-sponsors.

One of the more bold pieces of legislation doesn’t come from the House, but rather the Senate. Proposed by Sen. Gloria Butler (D – Stone Mountain), SB 37  calls to replace the electoral college with a National Popular Vote. So far, Butler’s bill has 15 other so-sponsors. 15 states plus the District of Columbia have signed on to similar legislation.

While Republicans still hold to a majority at the state level, 2020 marked the year of the Democrat for Georga after it swung for Joe Biden (D), then Senators Raphael Warnock (D) and Jon Ossoff (D) took their runoffs. Republicans’ legislative action must prove that future elections aren’t lost after 75,000 voters didn’t show for the January run-off.

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