A group of Republican state lawmakers are calling for the General Assembly to hold a special session ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections for U.S. Senate to consider changes to Georgia’s voter ID laws amid testiness over the recent presidential contest.
State election officials have said a second recount of the Nov. 3 presidential election that began Tuesday likely will not include inspecting signatures on absentee ballot envelopes, which allies of President Donald Trump have demanded since his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia.
In Georgia, county election officials verify mail-in voters by matching the signatures they are required to make on ballot envelopes with their signatures on file from when they registered. The envelopes are then separated from the actual ballots to protect voter privacy, making it tough to re-match those signatures later.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office has repeatedly said state and local officials have found no evidence so far of any widespread fraud in this month’s general election. Raffensperger has, however, advocated for tightening the state’s voter ID laws.
Gov. Brian Kemp has not said whether he would convene the legislature before the regular session on Jan. 11. His office responded Tuesday with a prior statement from the governor, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, saying they “share the same concerns many Georgians have about the integrity of our elections.”
If a special session is convened, lawmakers should consider creating a notary or photo ID requirement for voting by mail and hold committee hearings on “any evidence of voter fraud,” four Republican state senators who called for the session said in a news release.
“As the [first recount] has shown, we have structural issues with the implementation and proper execution of our ballot counting procedures,” read a joint statement from Sens. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming; William Ligon, R-Brunswick; Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta; and Burt Jones, R-Jackson.
A statewide hand recount that wrapped up last week confirmed Biden’s win over Trump in Georgia by 12,670 votes out of a record-setting roughly 5 million ballots cast in the election amid a surge of mail-in voting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump has not yet conceded defeat and his allies in Georgia have homed in on the process for verifying voter signatures on absentee ballots as problematic not only for the presidential election, but also potentially for the intensely watched U.S. Senate runoffs in January.
Georgia’s two Senate runoff races are poised for high turnout due to their unique importance. Wins by both Democratic candidates over the Republican incumbent senators would give Democrats control over the White House and Congress for at least the next two years.
Many Georgia Republican leaders have pointed to roughly 5,000 ballots that went uncounted in the initial election results but were discovered during the hand recount that wrapped up last week as proof of problems with the election system. Those ballots trimmed Biden’s lead over Trump by 1,900 votes.
State election officials had said prior to the recount that they expected to find some discrepancies from the original count, but stressed also any additional recount or effort to again verify signatures would not likely change the ultimate outcome of the presidential election.
Even so, among those pushing to verify signatures and change the state voter ID law is Kemp, who last week called the discovery of thousands of ballots during the hand recount “simply unacceptable.”
However, the governor also recently railed against “baseless attacks [on Georgia’s election system] that are absolutely absurd.”
“These are ridiculous,” Kemp said at a news conference Tuesday. “They only seek to breed fear, create confusion and sow discord among our citizens.
“We must ignore those that want to divide us and find a way to overcome the challenges that we all face together.”
Early voting for the Senate runoff elections starts Dec. 14. The deadline for Georgia voters to register for the runoffs is Dec. 7.
By Beau Evans, Staff Writer
Capitol Beat News Service