Nothing is more American, more democratic, more free than the right to vote.
Republicans led the way 16 years ago to make it easier for the people of Georgia to cast a ballot.
What has changed?
Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan was right earlier this month when he strongly opposed a bill proffered by his fellow Republicans that will eliminate no excuse absentee voting.
Duncan was right when he refused to preside over the vote which he knew fellow Republicans were bent on passing.
Duncan is not the only Georgia Republican who understands the importance of protecting democracy.
Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was right when he certified the presidential election and refused to bow to election fraud claims.
Republican Gabriel Sterling, state voting system implementation manager, was right when he debunked election fraud claims, defended the integrity of the vote in Georgia and the security of mail-in voting in the presidential election. The record turnout in Georgia elections was made possible by no-excuse absentee balloting which Republicans once championed.
Republican Gov. Brain Kemp was right to defend the integrity of Georgia’s electoral processes and make it clear that mail-in, no excuse balloting did not compromise the vote in the presidential election.
But now the Republican-led State Senate has approved sweeping changes to election laws in the state, doing away with no-excuse absentee voting.
Republicans were right when they led the charge and overwhelmingly voted to institute no-excuse absentee balloting back in 2005.
So why are so many GOP lawmakers voting to repeal the same thing they once championed?
The measure passed the Senate, with a one-vote majority, and limits absentee voting to Georgians who are 65 years or older, have a physical disability or are out of town to be eligible to vote by mail.
Macy McFall in the Republican Lt. Governor’s administration was right when she said, “The lieutenant governor has been crystal clear that he does not support the roll-back of absentee voting.” Because the provision rolling back no-excuse absentee voting is still in the bill, and because he does not have a vote, he felt this was the best way to show his opposition, explaining why Duncan refused to preside over the vote.
Republican Sen. Brian Strickland was right when he led a failed effort to strike the provision that would have done away with no-excuse absentee balloting during committees.
Four Republicans who opposed their Republican colleagues, including Strickland, however, should not have excused themselves from voting on the measure. They should have stood tall against the assault on voter rights, adamantly and proudly voting “no.”
Use of mail-in ballots grew drastically during the pandemic, particularly among minority and Democratic voters.
It is no mere coincidence that in the aftermath of Democratic victories, a ground swell of Republicans, many of whom openly admit there was no widespread voter fraud, now want to change the rules around voting. Changing the rules around voting will disproportionately affect minority voters, amounting to voter suppression.
The conspiracy theories of widespread voter fraud has been repeatedly debunked and rejected by the courts, including conservative judges throughout the nation. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the bogus claims.
So, again it begs the questions: Why this? Why now?
While in the past, most notably in 2005, Republicans were right to expand voting rights, those who voted for this recent measure are just wrong.
Numerous Republican lawmakers were right in committee meetings when they repeatedly conceded there is no evidence of widespread fraud. Yet, they inexplicably pushed a frenzy of bills that would overhaul Georgia’s election system.
If and when this ill-conceived piece of legislation makes it to Gov. Kemp’s desk, our Republican governor will be right to veto.
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.