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Georgia lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a bill that would require more identification to vote by mail — a move similar to efforts in other swing states to restrict absentee voting following the 2020 election.
The bill, which passed 35-18 in the Georgia Senate largely along party lines, would require voters requesting absentee ballots to provide a driver’s license number, state identification number or a photocopy of their identification. The bill will now go to the state’s House of Representatives.
It’s one of four election-related bills passed by the state senate Tuesday, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting. The others would require election officials to begin processing absentee ballots the week before Election Day, delay the reporting of results until after officials determine the total number of ballots cast and give county officials a shorter window to enter “voting credit.”
The bills come after a record 1.3 million Georgians voted by mail in the 2020 election and the U.S. saw a record voter turnout, with more Americans than ever casting absentee ballots as the coronavirus pandemic made the safety of in-person voting questionable.
Now, Georgia is one of several swing states where Republican lawmakers have attempted to make changes to their election laws — especially those related to mail ballots — after President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump and after Democrats gained control of the U.S. Senate.
Disagreement over the bill
In Georgia, Republican lawmakers have touted the potential identification requirement for absentee voting as an election security measure.
Sen. Larry Walker, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that most Georgia voters already have identification on file and wouldn’t need to provide a photo ID to vote by mail.
“It’s not about disenfranchising voters,” Walker told the outlet. “It’s not about overburdening the electorate. It’s about efficiency and security.”
But some Democratic lawmakers have derided the legislation as an effort to stifle voters and framed it as a response to what Republicans viewed as an unfavorable outcome of the 2020 election.
“Let’s make no mistake about what this bill is about: The election did not turn out the way you wanted it to,” Sen. David Lucas, a Democrat from Macon, said to Republican lawmakers, according to the AJC. “We’re perpetuating this big lie of fraud.”
Biden’s 2020 victory in Georgia marked the first time a Democrat carried the state since former President Bill Clinton in 1992. Democrats also won the state’s pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, which ultimately determined the balance of power in the chamber.
In the wake of the presidential election, Trump and other Republicans continuously touted false claims that the election was fraudulent, specifically targeting the outcome in Georgia and other key battleground states.
Some Republicans, including Trump, also attempted to sow doubt about the security of mail-in voting, which tends to be used by more Democratic voters, and sought avenues to limit access to absentee voting leading up to and during the election.
There was no evidence, however, of widespread election fraud in any state, and experts have long said voting by mail is safe and secure.
Similar efforts in other states
A February report from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan policy and law institute, found hundreds of bills “aimed at election procedures and voter access” have been introduced by state lawmakers across the country.
More than 165 “restrictive bills” have been “introduced, prefiled or carried over” across 33 states, the center says. That’s more than four times the number of such bills at this time last year.
Roughly a quarter have those have been focused on absentee voting, according to the Brennan Center. They include bills that would limit who can vote by mail, make obtaining mail ballots more difficult and create more requirements — such as witness signatures — for filling out ballots.
Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia, all of which were battleground states Biden won in 2020 that have Republican-controlled legislatures, are the three states with the most bills put forth, the report found.
In Arizona, which went blue in 2020 for the first time since 1996, a flurry of bills have been floated in the legislature, including proposals that would remove residents from or do away with the permanent early voter list, make ballot recounts easier and place more restrictions on absentee voting, the Associated Press reported in January.
Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have introduced at least 14 “restrictive voting measures,” including one that would require voters to have “state-approved excuses” to vote by mail, The Pennsylvania Capital-Star reports.
While some lawmakers who have introduced bills have said their purpose is security and efficiency, the Brennan Center described them as “backlash to historic voter turnout” and rooted in baseless voter fraud claims.