ATLANTA — Bills aimed at scrapping Georgia’s no-excuse absentee voting law and to increase identification requirements to vote by mail advanced in the Georgia Senate Wednesday.
The four bills, which passed by party-line votes out of two separate Senate Ethics Committee subcommittees, marked the first push by top Republican state lawmakers to move a slate of election bills focused on changes to absentee voting.
The most far-reaching measure would halt registered Georgia voters’ ability to vote by mail without providing a reason, ending a practice widely used in the 2020 election cycle by millions of voters wary of exposure to COVID-19 at in-person polling places.
Another bill that passed Wednesday seeks to boost voter ID requirements for requesting and casting absentee ballots, marking changes favored by top-ranking Georgia Republicans including Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.
The bill would require registered voters to provide their date of birth, driver’s license number or other ID card number to request an absentee ballot, overhauling the state’s current system of verifying voter signatures on absentee request forms and ballot envelopes.
Two other measures that cleared Wednesday’s subcommittees would create a new state elections supervisor in charge of training local elections officials and restrict mobile polling places for use only when regular voting sites have lost power or been damaged.
The four bills now head to the full committee for consideration before potentially reaching the Senate floor.
The proposals address many claims former President Trump and his allies made following the 2020 elections of widespread voter fraud that state officials and federal courts rejected as baseless. Trump lost the Nov. 3 election in Georgia to President Biden by 11,779 votes.
Republican lawmakers have called many of the proposed changes necessary to restore voter confidence in the state’s election system and rein in mail-in voting after local elections officials complained they were overwhelmed during the 2020 cycle.
Their push to overhaul the absentee-voting process has been condemned by Democratic lawmakers who have framed the bills as attempts at voter suppression seeking to halt the momentum Democrats have built in recent elections.
Democratic lawmakers also slammed Republican state senators for holding Wednesday’s two subcommittee hearings at 7 a.m. – an unusually early hour for hearings in Georgia legislative sessions – and for not broadcasting the hearings via live-stream video for the public to watch.
“Clearly, we are trying to hide something from the public, the people we answer to,” state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said. “This gamesmanship is unacceptable.”
Subcommittee hearings in the state Senate “are not typically streamed unless we have approval from leadership,” said Andrew Allison, director of the Senate Press Office, which is in charge of broadcasting meetings during the session.
The Georgia Senate Republican Caucus also stressed subcommittee meetings are not live-streamed, though the state House of Representatives does broadcast live video of subcommittee meetings.
The Republican caucus punched back at Democrats, saying their complaints “misrepresent election integrity efforts” and bashing the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus for soliciting donations in a message on Twitter criticizing the election bills.
“Ethics complaints are being considered,” the Republican caucus said.