Georgia Bill Would Stop Officials From Mailing Absentee Ballot Applications

ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans controlling a Georgia House committee approved legislation Wednesday that would prevent election officials from proactively sending mail ballot request forms to voters ahead of an election.

If it makes it through both chambers and gets Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature, it could take effect ahead of November’s general elections.

To protect voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, sent absentee ballot applications to nearly 7 million active registered voters for the state’s June 9 primary elections, enabling huge numbers to avoid having to vote in person. That contributed to increased turnout, with turnout particularly high among Democrats.

The election was marred by problems after poll workers dropped out in fear of getting infected and their replacements had trouble with new voting equipment, contributing to hours-long lines at the consolidated polling sites.

Senate Bill 463 proposes several changes to Georgia election law, including giving county election officials leeway in deciding how many voting machines they’ll need for certain elections. It was amended Wednesday morning in the House Governmental Affairs Committee to include language that would block Raffensperger’s office as well as counties from proactively mailing out absentee ballot applications.

Under the bill, individual voters would essentially be left to start the process themselves if they want to vote absentee.

Republican Rep. Shaw Blackmon, chairman of the committee, said the change is meant to help county election officials avoid being flooded with absentee ballot applications, as happened before the June 9 primary.

“There’s no attempt in any way to remove the ability to request or vote in this particular manner,” Blackmon said. “It just is a capacity issue.”

Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Democrat from Decatur on the panel, spoke in opposition to the measure.

“The secretary of state has already said that he is not going to send out proactively absentee applications,” Shannon said. “This ties the hands of local governments if they want to do that to help in their elections.”

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