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How Hall legislators aim to streamline voter ID, absentee ballot laws
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A voter makes his way to the polls Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, at Gainesville First United Methodist Church to vote in the U.S. Senate runoff election in Georgia. - photo by Scott Rogers

Absentee balloting is the topic du jour of Georgia’s 2021-22 legislative session.

Last week, Senate Republicans unveiled a series of election reform bills that includes rescinding the state’s no-excuse absentee balloting provision and eliminating mail-in ballot drop boxes

A new bill making rounds in the Georgia House of Representatives, sponsored by a trio of Republican Hall County legislators, proposes its own modifications to the state’s absentee balloting process.

House Bill 232 proposes identification standards for voters applying for absentee ballots, in addition to establishing a web portal that would streamline the absentee balloting process.

The measure is authored by Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, and sponsored by Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, as well as Timothy Barr, R-Lawrenceville.

Hawkins told The Times the bill isn’t meant to discourage absentee balloting, but provide safeguards to legitimize the process.

“This isn’t a Democrat or Republican bill, it’s a voting rights bill,” he said. “The intention is not to get rid of absentee voting, because it’s a right. This bill offers legal pathways to the absentee balloting process that removes confusion for the voters.”

HB 232 shares similarities with another election reform bill titled Senate Bill 67, which would require additional identification thresholds for voters applying for an absentee ballot.

SB 67 requires Georgians who are not military or overseas voters to include either their driver's license or state ID number on the absentee application or include a photocopy of an acceptable voter ID needed to vote in-person.

The conditions in House Bill 32 require a voter to submit a photocopy of a voter’s state ID or other identification documents to apply for an absentee ballot.

“Every vote counts, those who vote in-person and by absentee ballot,” said Hawkins. “But there are tweaks that can and need to be made to the process that doesn’t restrict anybody’s voting rights.”

Voters rights groups have argued that adding a provision that requires photocopies of voter identification could suppress voters in low-income communities who lack access to photocopying software.

Another wrinkle in the bill authorizes the Secretary of State’s office to create a web portal that allows voters with a Georgia-issued driver’s license or other valid forms of ID to submit absentee ballot requests online.

If the request is approved, the Secretary of State’s office would forward the information to county offices, who would be responsible for issuing ballots.

“All that would be needed on the part of the voter to get a ballot through this web portal would be your date of birth and your driver’s license,” said Hawkins. “It’s another step in making the process simpler and streamlined through the appropriate channels.
Additionally, HB 232 would require non-governmental organizations mailing out absentee ballots to classify those documents as unofficial ballots.

According to the bill, organizations would need to issue a disclaimer stating that the ballots sent from them are not by a governmental agency and is subsequently an invalid ballot.

A record-high 1.3 million Georgians utilized absentee balloting in November.  

In Georgia, more than six times as many people cast an absentee vote by mail in the 2020 presidential election than in 2016.

Joe Biden beat former President Donald Trump by more than 11,700 votes in Georgia, a result that was confirmed by two recounts, and Biden had almost double the absentee-by-mail votes than his predecessor, with roughly 850,000 for Biden compared to about 450,000 for Trump.

Republican lawmakers and officials in the state, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have publicly supported removing the no-excuse absentee balloting in the fallout of the election.

It was under the governorship of Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2005 that the no-excuse absentee voting provision was introduced.

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