Georgia lawmakers took a step in the wrong direction.
Back in 2005, a GOP-led effort in our state advanced voting rights and made it easier to cast a ballot in Georgia.
Voter turnout has always been a challenge in our state.
So, when 16 years ago the legislature expanded early voting and allowed no-excuse mail-in balloting, it not only made it easier to vote, in some cases it made it possible for voters to cast a ballot for the first time.
But now, in many ways, the General Assembly has gone in the opposite direction and made it more difficult to vote, and that is just wrong.
Still, it could have been worse.
The worst parts of the new law will make it harder for many legally registered voters to get to the polls.
One part of the new elections law limits the number of ballot drop boxes in each county.
Another part of the measure gives the state more say in how local elections offices run elections, talking control of elections one step farther away from the people.
And, now more onerous identification requirements will be added to the absentee voting process.
To be clear, only legally registered voters should vote in our elections.
To be more clear, no one who is not legally registered to vote should ever vote in a Georgia election.
We already had clear rules in place to prevent illegal voting.
Illegal voting has always been investigated and, when found, prosecuted. Georgia elections were already safe.
Systemic, widespread voter fraud simply does not exist in our state.
Social media conspiracy theories and urban legends about widespread voter fraud in our state have been debunked.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that people still don’t continue to spread those conspiracy theories.
Lawmakers should be above bowing to reckless, baseless claims of a stolen election.
It is perfectly fine to be upset about the outcome of an election.
When that happens, work harder, improve party messaging and, even better, listen to the voters and find out what policies and positions align with the will of the people.
While the fear these election measures will dampen voter access and even disenfranchise fragile parts of the electorate are very real, the parts of the measure which expand early voting periods are encouraging.
Early versions of voting bills which were nixed included even more extreme measures like doing away with no-excuse absentee voting altogether. That would have been disastrous.
It is equally encouraging that Republicans walked back a provision that would have done away with early in-person voting on Sundays which voting rights advocates called a direct attack on Black voters and the traditional “Souls to the Polls” voter drives. The new law expands weekend early voting by requiring two Saturdays and at least allows an optional Sunday. Local elections officials should absolutely take advantage of that option and it will say a lot about their commitment to voter turnout if they do not.
Democrat Jen Jordan pointed out the most concerning thing of all when she said, “Some of the most dangerous provisions have to do with the takeover of local elections boards and not only that but at the state election board level. The majority party in the Senate and the House would effectively control the state election board.” Removing local control is never a good thing.
Again, while this could have been far worse, these revisions to elections laws in our state disproportionately harm voters of color who turned out in droves during the 2020 election cycle and that begs one simple question: Why?
Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI’s director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.