The Georgia Senate passed four bills on Tuesday, including two sponsored by Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County, making changes to Georgia’s election laws.
The bills now go to the House, which has its own more far-reaching bill under consideration that was sponsored by six Republican members of a Special Committee on Election Integrity.
Houston Gaines, who represents three of Oconee County’s 12 precincts in the Georgia House of Representatives, is a member of that Special Committee, which now will review it before House action.
The House Bill would limit early voting, add additional requirements for applications for absentee ballots, limit the time line for requesting and issuing absentee ballots, and restrict the location of secure ballot drop boxes, among other things.
Cowsert had indicated before the vote that he was inclined to support the other Senate bills that passed on Tuesday and did vote in favor of them.
Gaines, and Rep. Marcus Wiedower, who represents the remaining nine Oconee County precincts, have been unwilling to indicate how they feel about the bills under consideration or about the need for changes in Georgia’s election laws.
Many Republicans have called for changes in the state’s election laws following the Democratic success in the presidential and U.S. Senate races, though Republicans easily maintained their control over elections to the General Assembly.
Cowsert, Gaines, and Wiedower are all Republicans and were re-elected by comfortable margins against Democratic opposition last November.
One of the bills sponsored by Cowsert–Senate Bill 184 would shorten the time allowed for local election officials to submit local election files from 60 days to 30 days and set a penalty for not meeting the deadline.
Senate Bill 188, the second bill sponsored by Cowsert, would require the Secretary of State to set up and operate an election results reporting system.
The system would track of the number of ballots cast by type in each precinct, the results of state and federal races by precinct, the number of absentee ballots issued and returned, the number of absentee ballots certified, the number of absentee ballots rejected, and the number of provisional ballots cast.
It also would require that the details of the ballot types be uploaded before results could be released.
Senate Bill 67 would require a driver’s license number, state ID number or photo ID as part of an application for an absentee ballot.
Senate Bill 40 would allow election official to open and scan absentee ballots eight days before election day.
Cowsert had told me in an email exchange last week that he was “leaning in favor” of Senate Bill 67 “based upon what I heard in the committee meeting” and was was “supportive of” Senate Bill 40.
“I have also heard many constituents concerns about a lack of confidence in the security of our election process,” Cowsert told me in an email message on Jan. 10.
“Most concerns focus on the mail in voting process and a desire to verify the security and reliability of the new voting machines and software,” Cowsert said.
He said at the time he would be interested in looking at changes to the state’s election laws to address those concerns.
No Response From Gaines, Wiedower
I had asked both Gaines and Wiedower back in January and again last week to indicate what changes they felt needed to be made to the state’s election laws.
I also asked each of them to tell me where he stood on the bills under consideration.
I used their official state email addresses and varied the sending email.
I have not gotten any response from either of them.
I did hear from Gaines on a separate matter using that same email on Jan. 28.
Legislative Rundown Columns
Gaines and Wiedower have written three columns for The Oconee Enterprise, starting on Jan. 28, providing what is labeled a “legislative rundown.”
In the column on Jan. 28, they said that “election laws” would be one “area of focus" in the legislative session, along with expanding broadband across the state and the health and economic impact of COVID-19.
“As legislation regarding these topics moves forward, we will certainly keep you updated,” they wrote.
In the column on Feb. 4, they wrote “Both of us have introduced our first bills of the 2021 Legislative Session, including bills addressing local elections issues and legislation ensuring paid parental leave for state employees in Georgia.”
“We will be sharing much more as these bills and other legislative priorities move forward,” they wrote.
They did not mention elections in their column on Feb. 11.
In neither of the columns in which they brought up the topic of elections did they give any sense of their views on the changes being proposed.
House Bill 286
Gaines has been busy talking about another bill he has sponsored.
House Bill 286 would restrict the ability of local governments to cut back on funding of their police.
He appeared on Fox and Friends on Feb. 18 to promote the legislation.
“So what we’ve done with the Bill is make sure that local governments that are out of control aren’t able to slash police budgets,” he said.
“We’ve just seen in Minneapolis where they have cut their police budget. And already just last week they were having to go back on that,” he continued.
“Well, that’s too late for the crimes that have already been committed and the damage that that has done to that community.
“So we want to make sure that doesn’t happen here in Georgia. That defunding the police doesn’t take a foothold here in Georgia.”
The clip ran for 3 minutes and 19 seconds, and the host said this in closing:
“Congressman Houston Gaines, thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.”
Gaines did not correct the error of his title, at least not in the clip that aired.
Wiedower is a co-sponsor of House Bill 286.