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Opinion: Expect election drama, close race for Senate runoff. But at least the mail will stop
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Jay Lawson, left, of the Hall County Elections Office and Hall County Marshall Dwight Mobley remove absentee ballots as Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, from a drop box at the Spout Springs Library. - photo by Scott Rogers

We are, at last, in the final days of an interminable election season that has been so long that it extended beyond the calendar pages of a single year and into a second.

Georgians on Tuesday will go to the polls for a runoff to determine the fate of the U.S. Senate, as we have been reminded ad nauseum in recent weeks, and to select a member of the state’s Public Service Commission, a down-ballot race totally lost in the cacophony of sound generated by the Senate races.

While the election will be over on Tuesday, that does not necessarily mean the winners will immediately be obvious. Given the aftermath of the general election, it seems a certainty that close vote totals in the runoff will lead to some sort of challenge before winners can be certified, valid or not. After casting our ballots, it could be days or weeks before there is certainty as to who will, in fact, take office.

The 2020 election cycle has been both draining and divisive. The barrage of political advertising, misinformation, lies, character assassination, accusations, denials and inane conspiracy theories has been relentless, and most of us suffer from political fatigue to go along with our pandemic fatigue.

Georgia, with not one but two remaining Senate seats to be decided, has been the epicenter of the nation’s political universe since the general election. It is a position we would gladly abandon after Tuesday, though we suspect the spotlight will shine on the Peach State for a while longer as the runoff ballot gives way to expected litigation, regardless of result.

As we edge ever closer to casting those final votes, political and election related activities have continued at a frantic pace.

Times editorial board

Staff members

  • Norman Baggs, general manager

  • Shannon Casas, editor in chief

Community members

  • Cheryl Brown

  • David George

  • Mandy Harris

  • Brent Hoffman

  • J.C. Smith

  • Tom Vivelo

Tuesday, the secretary of state’s office released the results of an audit of voter signatures completed in Cobb County by election officials and law enforcement. The audit found that there was not a single case of fraudulent intent out of some 15,000 voter signatures on absentee ballots in the county. Not one. 

The audited total represented a sampling of the roughly 150,000 absentees cast in the county. The audit found that only 10 ballots were accepted with voter signatures missing or failing to match registration records, and in every case the voters were contacted and confirmed they had indeed cast the ballots.

The most nefarious misdeed found in the audit apparently was a ballot envelope signed by a wife on behalf of her husband. The audit should put to rest weeks of unfounded claims about the state’s absentee ballot process and voter fraud, but likely will not as those who insist on perpetuating the fraud myth are unlikely to accept the audit findings as legitimate.

There are some who will never accept the fact that the general election was not rife with misconduct, despite the lack of any sort of actual evidence proving widespread fraud or manipulation of ballots.

Allegations of improprieties, most of them unfounded, will almost certainly play a role in the upcoming session of the state’s General Assembly, where it seems a foregone conclusion that steps will be taken to change how we conduct elections, needed or not.

Speaker of the House David Ralston has already put forth the idea that the state’s constitution should be changed so that members of the legislative body would have the power to appoint the position of secretary of state, rather than have the people of Georgia vote on the holder of the office.

That is a terrible idea. The last thing we need is for the state’s top election official, who is responsible for overseeing the propriety of political campaigns, to be beholden to those same politicians for his job. The speaker’s idea is one that needs to be quickly dismissed, if in fact it is put forth for consideration.

The current secretary of state has called for legislation to make it harder for Georgians to cast absentee ballots, and that topic seems certain to be discussed in the legislative session that opens this month.

Expect also to hear debate over whether Georgia should do away with its runoff requirement, allowing candidates who have the highest number of votes in any election to take office, whether they have an actual majority or not. The runoff requirement is one that has been debated and changed in the past, usually after a candidate legislators thought should win failed to do so.

But even as the majority party in the state’s legislative body considers action to tighten the voting process, expect the minority party to raise questions and propose legislation related to disenfranchisement of voters by purging voter rolls and eliminating polling places.

Wednesday, the president of the Georgia NAACP resigned from an election task force empaneled by the secretary of state, saying the body’s actions were a “farce” and that the state continues in efforts to minimize minority participation in elections and to prevent eligible voters from voting.

The general election results suggest the state is almost equally divided between conservative and liberal factions, and with a heated gubernatorial race expected on the very near horizon, legislative changes in this session could have significant impact on voting in 2022. It’s also safe to anticipate that whatever changes are made are likely to face a court challenge.

All of which is to say that even though we go to the polls Tuesday, our state’s election drama and political fatigue are likely to continue well into the new year, and perhaps beyond. There is one bright spot, however. After we vote, the bombardment of political ads, mailers and phone calls should end. At least for a little while.  

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