Bill Cowsert

State Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, speaks to members of the Walton County Chamber of Commerce at a membership luncheon Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 12, 2020, in Monroe, Ga.

The state Senate passed four bills to reform Georgia election laws, two of them sponsored by a local lawmaker.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, offered two bills designed to give Georgians a quicker answer on who won races in the state.

Senate Bill 184 decreases the time counties have to reconcile vote counts and submit their verification to the state to 30 days, from the current 60 days.

SB 188 would require the counties report the number of absentee ballots issued and returned, and the number of in-person votes casts, at the close of polls.

Information would be made available publicly by the secretary of state’s office online.

Cowsert said the passage of his bills allowed the state to take a step toward “restoring confidence in our elections by providing a transparent process for how votes are verified.”

He said SB 188 would require county boards of elections to post the number of votes received before the counting starts.

One of the bills passed came from a Democratic senator, Jen Jordan of Atlanta. It authorizes election registrars and absentee ballot clerks to start opening and tabulating absentee ballots before Election Day but prohibits any election official who is counting votes or monitoring the tabulation from communicating any information about the count.

It passed the Senate unanimously.

And SB 67 requires people who vote by absentee ballot to provide either their driver’s license number or state-issued ID number on their ballot request form or provide a photocopy of an accepted form of identification.

People voting for the first time in Georgia would be required to provide a copy of an accepted form of ID under the bill introduced by Sen. Larry Walker, R-Perry.

“I am focused on maintaining confidence in our electoral process and making it easy to vote and difficult to cheat,” Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said. “I am proud of this bipartisan package and the hard work of the individual bill sponsors.”

Republicans have set their sights on overhauling Georgia’s current system of verifying signatures on mail-in ballot request forms and envelopes, eliminating a focal point for attacks by former President Donald Trump and his allies who alleged absentee voter fraud and called for deeper audits of the 2020 election results.

Democratic leaders and voting-rights groups oppose the measure, framing it as an attempt at voter suppression to halt Democrats’ momentum after flipping both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats and carrying Georgia for Democrat Joe Biden over Trump in the November presidential election by 11,779 votes.

Speaking from the Senate floor Tuesday, Walker highlighted how vote-by-mail skyrocketed in the 2020 elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when Georgia voters cast millions more absentee ballots than normal.

Given mail-in voting is expected to remain popular, Walker said tightening voter ID requirements would create “very common-sense” rules for verifying voters, which would help county elections officials check identities with greater accuracy.

“It’s not about disenfranchising voters,” Walker said. “It’s not about overburdening the electorate.

“It’s about efficiency and security and election integrity and allowing the Georgia public to have confidence in the vote.”

Democratic senators did not buy that argument Tuesday, voicing opposition from the floor to the bill over privacy concerns and hurdles for voters who do not have driver’s licenses.

Choking back tears, Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon, who is one of the legislature’s longest-serving members, called the bill a bald attempt by Georgia Republicans to change the rules of the election game and warned them to expect a legal brawl if their absentee voter ID wish-list passes into law.

“I’m going to tell you, we’re going to fight,” Lucas said. “There’s no question what’s going to happen. And you’re going to spend taxpayer money trying to defend it.”

The bill passed by 35-18 nearly along party lines, with state Sen. Michael “Doc” Rhett, D-Marietta, voting in favor. All four bills now head to the Georgia House of Representatives.

The state Senate passed four bills to reform Georgia election laws, two of them sponsored by a local lawmaker.


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