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Hickman: New election law may need ‘tweaking’ on early voting
Hears that 17 days, including 2 Saturdays, are burdensome for small-town elections
Concluding his two-week, six-county “Hometown Tour” on Oct.  28, state Sen. Billy Hickman speaks to supporters in a banquet room at the Holiday Inn Statesboro-University Area Hotel.
Concluding his two-week, six-county “Hometown Tour” on Oct. 28, state Sen. Billy Hickman speaks to supporters in a banquet room at the Holiday Inn Statesboro-University Area Hotel. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Georgia’s 2021 assemblage of election law changes, enacted as Senate Bill 202, may need some “tweaking” in 2022, first-term Republican state Sen. Billy Hickman told constituents at a recent gathering in Statesboro.

While praising the controversial new law as “a very tight election bill,” that has served as a model for a couple of other states, Hickman said there should be some changes made during the Georgia General Assembly’s regular January-March session.

He referred particularly to the requirement that counties and cities host 17 days of early voting, including two Saturdays, for all elections, even for council member elections in small towns. Hickman held a "Hometown Tour" with gatherings in each of the Senate District 4’s six counties, concluding Oct. 28 in Bulloch County at the Holiday Inn on Statesboro’s Commerce Drive. 

He has since  gone to Atlanta for the  special session, which convened Wednesday  and  is expected to last through much of November, during  which the Legislature  will redraw its own districts and those  for Georgia’s seats in the U.S. House  of  Representatives based on the 2020 U.S. Census  results.

“Then we go right back in January for a long January through March session, and that’s probably when we’ll make some tweaking on the election bill,” Hickman said.

First elected in 2020 to succeed the late Sen. Jack Hill of Reidsville, Hickman is a certified public accountant from Statesboro. He said he had already been talking to Georgia House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, who attended Hickman’s event, about one problem in the new election law. They had “already been hit by it” with comments from some area election officials, Hickman said.

“Right now early voting is 17 days,” he said. “You’ve got three five-day weeks and two Saturdays and then optional Sunday voting. These small towns, like Claxton and Metter … they’re experiencing days where workers are sitting in those offices and nobody’s coming in to vote.”

This means keeping three or four poll workers on the job, including paying them on Saturdays, which are not regular work hours, for few if any voters, he noted.

“So I think we probably need to look at some of those, for the local elections, to reduce those days down from 17 to some reasonable number,” Hickman said.


Still praises SB 202

Then he added that “what has so impressed” him  about Senate Bill 202 is that “we’ve  already had two  states that  have patterned  their  election laws after Georgia’s, one of them being Kentucky, and the other one  being  Texas.”

Kentucky currently has a Democratic governor and lieutenant governor, while Republicans hold commanding majorities in both chambers of its state Legislature.

“Our bill, why it’s so contentious was, (in Georgia) we’ve got a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a Republican governor, so the Democrats were just totally against it. No matter what we did, they were totally against,” Hickman said. “Kentucky took our bill, and basically mirrored our bill, Senate Bill 202 … and they only allowed three days of early voting.”

He noted that Kentucky’s bill passed by overwhelming margins in both its House and Senate, with only three “no” votes in each.

But no-excuse early voting is new in Kentucky, even with three days, and Democrats, although not in the majority, hold larger portions of the seats in Georgia’s Legislature than in Kentucky’s.

Georgia already provided 15 weekdays of early voting in most elections for years before Senate Bill 202 was adopted. Among other things, the bill passed by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp expanded the number of state-required in-person early voting days and hours while cutting back on the days when absentee ballots can be mailed  to voters at their  request.


Claxton’s $70 voters

One of the area election officials who had expressed concern about the requirement of 17 days of early voting and two mandatory Saturdays was Evans County Probate Court Judge Darin McCoy. One of 31 Georgia probate judges who still serve as election superintendents for their counties, McCoy also supervises elections for the city of Claxton under contract.

In Claxton’s City Council election that concluded Tuesday, no voters showed up on the first Saturday for early voting, Oct.16, and only one voter turned out on the second Saturday, Oct. 23, McCoy noted in phone interview Thursday.

Before Senate Bill 202, Georgia’s election rules differentiated statewide elections from a city or county-only election and had looser requirements for early voting in those purely local elections, he said. Only one day of Saturday voting was required, and only for statewide elections.

Additionally, on weekdays, early voting hours in city elections could be conformed to the city hall’s regular hours of operation.  Besides mandating two voting Saturdays at all levels, Senate Bill 202 requires that early voting locations stay open at least eight hours each weekday.

“I think that is something they definitely need to look at, because I know with the city of Claxton it was very, very expensive to staff, with a minimum of three poll workers for 17 days, eight hours a day,” McCoy said.

In all 17 days combined, Claxton had 55 early voters.

“If you divide just the labor of the early voting by eight hours a day, 17 days and 55 voters, it cost the city about $70 per voter,” McCoy said.

He would like to see the Legislature amend the law to relax the requirements for early voting hours and Saturdays “when it’s simply a local election, not a statewide election,” he said.

In Bulloch County, the city of Brooklet also had no voters at all on Saturday, Oct. 16, despite keeping City Hall open for that purpose, and then had seven Saturday voters Oct. 23.

In a brief interview after his comments, Hickman said he has asked the election officials he heard from, such as McCoy and Candler County Probate Judge Tony Thompson, to quantify the cost of the early voting days.

“I’ve talked  to these guys and I’ve said when this cycle is over with, I want y’all to give me the number of days that there was nobody in the room as far as early voting, and I want you to quantify a dollar cost of having those people and their benefits in those rooms with nobody voting,” Hickman said.


Absentee deadline

Another change McCoy would like to see, but which Hickman didn’t mention in his remarks here, is a restoration of the last-Friday deadline for election officials to mail absentee ballots to voters who request them. The previous deadline was the Friday before Election Tuesday, but Senate Bill 202 moved the deadline back one week, to 11 days before the Election Day.

This was done in the context of Georgia’s “no excuse” absentee voting. But it prevents people who have late-occurring but compelling reasons from obtaining a mailed ballot, McCoy observed.

“For instance, the Monday before the election of the next week, eight days out, you fall and break your hip where you’re not mobile and there’s no way for you to show up at the advanced voting site and you’re at home, then there’s no way for you to get a ballot mailed to you,”  he said.

Hickman’s Statesboro “Hometown Tour” event also served a campaign fundraiser, where contributions were accepted but not required. At this point he has no announced challenger for election to a second two-year term.

But a state law prohibits legislators from seeking or accepting campaign contributions while the General Assembly is in session. So, with the special session followed by the Christmas season – traditionally a bad time for political fundraising – and then the regular session, April will be the next full month when lawmakers can freely raise funds, he said. The party primaries are May 24.



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