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Controversial Ga. elections bills head for finish line in General Assembly
Voting-rights advocates protest inside the state Capitol against Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s (R-Carrollton) elections bill before its passage in the Georgia Senate on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans)
Voting-rights advocates protest inside the state Capitol against Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s (R-Carrollton) elections bill before its passage in the Georgia Senate on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans) - photo by BEAU EVANS/Capitol Beat News Service

ATLANTA — Controversial legislation to overhaul voting by mail in Georgia and how voters can cast early ballots is racing toward the finish line in the General Assembly amid a sharp outcry from local voting-rights and church groups.

Two bills, both proposing dozens of changes to Georgia’s election system, recently cleared major hurdles in the current legislative session and are on a collision course to final passage as top lawmakers in the state Senate and House of Representatives decide which measures to keep and which to scrap.

Most likely on the chopping block is a proposal to end Georgians’ ability to vote by mail without giving a reason that has drawn a loud outcry. Democratic leaders call the move an attempt by state Republicans to gut mail-in voting after absentee ballots drove historic wins in the 2020 election cycle.

Separately, church leaders and Democratic backers of former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams are building up grassroots efforts to combat proposals to clamp down on line warming and weekend voting, portraying those Republican-brought measures as rooted in voter suppression.

Critics have also condemned the GOP-led election bills as attempts to curb voter turnout in Black and other minority communities that tend to lean Democratic, particularly after Black voters and mail-in ballots helped flip the presidency and both of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats in the 2020 elections.

“These bills are directly evil,” said Rev. Ferrell Malone Sr., the senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Waycross. “They are literally evil, and they’re coming from men and women who say they are Christians.”

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have held firm in their argument that the legislative proposals are needed to protect voter integrity in Georgia after the 2020 elections sparked doubts over the security of mail-in voting and identity verification.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, has dismissed attacks on an omnibus elections bill he is sponsoring in the Senate that includes repealing no-excuse absentee voting, as well as a new rule requiring Georgians to provide a driver’s license or state ID card number in order to request an absentee ballot.

Dugan and supporters of those measures in the Republican-controlled General Assembly also highlight the strain that processing millions of absentee ballots put on local election workers tasked with running three weeks of early voting and managing Election Day for several elections in the 2020 cycle.

“If we keep using more and more of the absentee [ballots], you’re going to overwhelm the counties multiple different ways, in the workload and the cost,” Dugan said. “The highest number of rejected ballots are mail-in absentee ballots, even with the curing process.”

“This is about [how] the method of voting in Georgia has significantly changed over the last 10 years.”

The proposal in Dugan’s bill that has come under the most criticism would limit absentee voting only to those who physically cannot go to the polls on Election Day or for early voting, ending the no-excuse absentee voting option that Republicans passed into state law in 2005.

The measure has also drawn pushback from top state Republicans including House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who refused to preside over the Senate vote on Dugan’s bill last week in protest of the no-excuse absentee voting repeal.

`Dugan has since backed off that proposal, noting that lawmakers will likely move to strip out the no-excuse absentee ban as his bill moves in the House.

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