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Editorial: Voting processes still drawing attention as court cases, investigations continue
03162018 VOTING

As the April 25 deadline for registering to vote in the upcoming May primary nears, it is increasingly obvious that the process for holding elections may garner as much news as the candidates themselves in this particular election cycle.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, candidates were the focus of election year news and the process of holding elections just quietly hummed along in the background as a seldom discussed afterthought.

No more.

As political hopefuls hone their campaigning skills and refine their stump speeches, news about the process of elections themselves is as plentiful as dandelions in a Georgia lawn after a spring rain.

In just the past few days, we’ve had:

  • A voting rights case based on Georgia’s 2018 and 2020 elections go to trial in a federal courtroom. Plaintiffs in the case argue the state took specific action to marginalize minority voters through its policies on voter registration rules and cancellation of absentee ballots. The litigation has as its genesis the gubernatorial campaign of 2018, when Brian Kemp oversaw state elections from his position as Secretary of State while also running for governor, and Stacey Abrams lost to Kemp in her bid for the state’s top elected position.  The state says the case is frivolous and already has defeated many of its claims in lower courts, but the current case will play out against a backdrop that has the same two candidates again seeking election for the office of governor.
  • Current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Monday called for investigations by law enforcement and election officials into some 1,600 people who may have attempted to register to vote sometime in the past five years despite not being U.S. citizens. A review of the registration efforts found that none of those noncitizens attempting to register actually cast a ballot, but it is a felony in Georgia to attempt voter registration if you do not meet the citizenship standard.
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  • Meanwhile, in other court action involving Abrams, a judge has to decide if she can take advantage of a fundraising law passed by the General Assembly that provides a significant financial benefit to the incumbent governor. The law allows the incumbent to benefit from donations raised by a “leadership committee” but denies that same option to other candidates until they are formally nominated by their party. Abrams has no opposition in the Democratic primary, but the judge has said state law is clear she is not yet the nominee until the primary takes place. Kemp’s leadership committee has raised more than $2 million for the candidate, while his opposition in the Republican Party primary and Democrat Abrams have not been able to take advantage of the opportunity to do so. It pays to have friends in the legislature.

As those issues play out in the courts and investigatory process, local election officials prepare for what is likely to be a process that is anything but smooth. The last day to register to vote in the primary is April 25, which is also the first day local election offices can begin mailing out absentee ballots to those requesting one.

Absentee voting has been incredibly popular in recent years, but the state’s revamped election law makes the process more difficult this year than in the past. The process for requesting an absentee ballot online now requires paperwork to be signed and sent back to election officials for verification, as well as a driver’s license number or other form of accepted identification. The timeframe for requesting and returning absentee ballots also has been shortened.

In the midst of the COVID pandemic in 2020, the state mailed absentee ballot applications to more than 6 million potential voters so that those who chose to do so could avoid a trip to the polls. Some 25% of voters did so via absentee ballot in the presidential election, compared to just 6% in the gubernatorial election of 2018. The state will not be sending applications to all voters this year, and the number of absentee ballots cast is expected to dramatically decrease.

Whether by voting absentee or taking advantage of the early voting period, Georgians have shown a preference for avoiding the traditional Election Day trip to the polls. In the 2020 election, nearly 70% of votes were cast prior to the actual general election day, suggesting broad support for making voting more convenient.

The close of registration in just over a week and the mailing of the first wave of absentee ballots will serve as the official checkered flag for the 2022 voting season.

With the state operating under a major election revision law passed last year, law enforcement investigations already on the horizon, decisions pending in court cases, redrawn election districts thanks to the reapportionment process and a tight labor market that ‘slikely to impact most local election offices, the balloting process for the upcoming primary and general election holds the potential to be the sort of nightmarish disaster you know is about to unfold but can’t help but watch anyway.

Given that there are those who still insist, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the last major election in the state was fraudulent, we can only imagine the sort of challenges likely to be made once the votes are counted this year.