Having been involved during the 90s and early 2000s in building out some of the infrastructures which became the two-party system in Georgia, I can say with some degree of authority that the Georgia GOP once had a much broader and more diverse base. During those formative years there was more talk of fiscal responsibility, lean and efficient government, as well as the importance of transparency, and as the GOP footholds grew in statehouse legislative chambers as well as local county courthouses, it was easy to see which political party had momentum, and energy…and which did not.
Though the polls and political poles have not yet reversed, Georgia Republicans are now in a much more precarious perch, a bit top-heavy with some one-note leadership and a bit over-served on the social agenda side of the GOP platform.
But that can change on a dime or an election. In a seismic shift during the 2002 General Election, Governor Roy Barnes and U.S. Senator Max Cleland were among those Democratic incumbents swept out by a surging red tide which brought Sonny Perdue into the Governor’s mansion, and elevated then U.S. Congressman Saxby Chambliss (R-8th), to the upper Senate Chamber. To help assure that the election was not a fluke, the state’s GOP leadership and the Georgia General Assembly, which took two more election cycles to move to full GOP majority worked to broaden voter access to the polls, while also insuring voters were each who they said they were with Georgia’s voter I.D. law in 2005.
In addition to voter I.D., the new voter statutes allowed for ‘no excuse’ Absentee voting, advance voting (which would eventually be extended for three weeks), weekend voting (Saturday and Sunday “souls to the polls”), multiple early voting locations in most urban counties, etc… This expanded access brought in thousands of new and first-time voters, including many new residents to the state who brought their politics with them, and in those days they often leaned GOP.
As someone in and around Georgia elections for four decades now, and with five years IN the Secretary of State’s Office, I can’t/won’t say that there were absolutely no fraudulent ballots cast during the 2020 General Election…but I can say without fear of contradiction that there weren’t 12,000 of them.
But scared incumbents, like many woodland creatures run to higher ground when a storm threatens, and rather than fight in the battleground of ideas to expand their party and re-broaden those tent stakes, many have chosen instead to rewrite the playbook that their own party updated and vastly improved on in 2005 and since. Shutting down Absentee voting, severely restricting early voting, limiting or eliminating dropbox locations, etc…will not guarantee nor even realistically improve GOP chances for maintaining the majority.
In fact as former State House Minority Leader, Stacey Abrams, and her supporters nearly took the Governor’s mansion in 2018 (by a loss of roughly 56,000 votes) and came even closer to victory without runoffs in one of two U.S. Senate contests during the 2020 cycle, intentionally restricting ballot access is only more likely to further energize and galvanize Georgia Democrats.
It is unpopular to point out that Jim Crow laws were the work of southern Democrats and Dixiecrats, in Georgia and other southern states, and when Ms. Abrams first began to weaponize ‘voter suppression’ as an election-year issue, the GOP remained almost asleep at the switch in responding until it was too late. Voter list purging, for the dead, those who have moved, relocated, become incarcerated, those who are not citizens or as yet are underage is periodically requiring by existing state and federal law.
There is room to improve Absentee Ballot security, adding voter I.D. and some type of numeric credential (versus the current signature match), to the inside ballot envelope. These are reasonable improvements that only strengthen the ability of election officials to offer secure election results. Some restrictions on the location and operating hours of absentee ballot drop boxes are also a less expensive option, inside early voting locations as an example, then maintaining 24-hour video surveillance to protect against box stuffing.
Neither party has been speaking much to independent and swing voters of late, nor Libertarians or moderates within either party. Why not try proposing centrist, common-sense public policy, rather than protecting the palace and party in power? History is littered with fallen leaders who often put themselves well ahead of the people they are elected to serve. Circular firing squad, circle the wagons, or start reaching out? This state is about to find out.