ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia lawmakers advanced legislation Wednesday which would ban election officials from mailing absentee ballot request forms unless a voter requests one.
The measure is part of Senate Bill 463, which also loosens restrictions on ballot signature-matching requirements and provides for the division of large precincts under certain conditions.
The bill could receive a vote in the Georgia House before the Legislature ends its current session Friday. If the measure passes and is signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, it could take effect before the November general election.
If passed, the bill would prevent Georgia election officials from repeating a large-scale absentee voting effort undertaken by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger prior to the primary election.
Raffensperger mailed ballot request forms to 6.9 million registered voters ahead of the primary to encourage voting by mail in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The effort led to increased voter turnout, particularly among Democrats.
Although over 1.2 million Georgians voted in the June 9 primary election via absentee ballot, long lines at polling places throughout the metro Atlanta area caused by precinct closures and voting machine problems left many voters waiting for hours to cast their ballots.
The bill would prevent election officials from sending out “unsolicited absentee ballot applications” again.
Georgia Democrats oppose the measure, saying it would make voting by mail more difficult and would force more voters to go to precincts during the November presidential election despite potential health risks caused by the pandemic, which shows no signs of abating and in fact appears to be getting worse.
Democrats also said the bill would unfairly prevent local officials from mailing absentee ballot request forms if they wish to do so.
But Republican lawmakers, who control both chambers in the Georgia General Assembly, said the measure is necessary to reduce pressure on overwhelmed election workers who had to process huge numbers of absentee ballot request forms ahead of the primary.
Rep. Shaw Blackmon, who chairs the House Governmental Affairs Committee, said the proposal “is in no way an attempt to remove the ability to vote or request in any manner” and “is just a capacity issue.”
House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, has said he believes encouraging absentee voting could lead to an increase in ballot fraud.
Voting fraud is very rare in Georgia and there is no evidence of widespread ballot fraud through mail-in voting.
Although voters would still be able to request an absentee ballot via an application that can be returned by mail or in person at the county election office, the bill would require them to initiate the absentee voting process themselves rather than complete a form that had already been mailed to them.
The bill would not prevent voting groups or political parties from mailing absentee ballot request forms to voters.
A coalition of voting rights groups issued a joint statement Wednesday voicing concerns about the proposal.
“Georgia Republicans need to realize that vote by mail is a tool that can benefit either party and that localities, as well as the state, should maintain as many possible tools in their toolbox to promote vote by mail generally and certainly in the midst of a raging, ongoing health crisis,” the statement issued by the Georgia NAACP, the Southern Center for Human Rights, Black Voters Matter Fund, and 15 other organizations said.