ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Jimmy Carter declared his opposition Tuesday to a slate of restrictive voting proposals moving through his native Georgia’s General Assembly, saying he is “disheartened, saddened and angry” over moves to “turn back the clock” on ballot access after Democratic successes in 2020.
Carter, a Democrat, said in a long statement that the Republican-backed proposals, which would end no-excuse absentee voting, “appear to be rooted in partisan interests, not the interests of all Georgia voters.”
The GOP push comes after Georgia favored President Joe Biden in November and elected two new U.S. senators in January, giving Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and cementing Georgia as a clear battleground.
Carter, 96, alluded to false assertions by former President Donald Trump, saying the proposed restrictions “are reactions to allegations of fraud for which no evidence was produced —allegations that were, in fact, refuted through various audits, recounts, and other measures.”
Georgia's Republican legislative leaders insist their measures are necessary to restore public confidence in the election, a position Carter dismissed.
“As our state legislators seek to turn back the clock through legislation that will restrict access to voting for many Georgians, I am disheartened, saddened, and angry,” Carter wrote.
Carter's statement came a day after the Georgia Senate passed a sweeping bill that would sharply limit who could cast absentee ballots. More than 1 million voters — or more than a fifth of the November electorate — used the no-excuse absentee ballot process in the general election.
That slice of the electorate tilted solidly to Biden but still included many Republican voters. Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast.
The Senate measure passed on a party line vote with the minimum number required to clear the chamber. With scores of election bills pending, the Assembly almost certainly will have to settle the matter with a conference committee of representatives and senators who will be tasked with crafting a compromise bill to present both chambers.
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and his aides have been involved in some discussions with legislative leaders, but the governor has largely deferred publicly on the details. He has said he wants to add a voter identification requirement to absentee voting, replacing the existing signature match requirement used to verify voters' identities.
Georgia is among the dozens of states where Republican lawmakers are pushing hundreds of bills that would make it harder to cast ballots than it was in 2020. Many states expanded voting options in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many of the GOP-backed measures go beyond those changes to curtail longstanding voting practices.
For example, in Georgia, no-excuse absentee voting was enacted under a 2005 law adopted by a Republican-controlled Assembly. Another proposal would roll back Georgia’s automatic voter registration law, forcing new voters to affirmatively opt in to registering to vote when they secure a driver license rather than having the option to opt out of registering.
Carter focused his criticisms mostly squarely on the proposal to roll back absentee voting. He pushed back at some advocates of the legislation who have cited an elections security report he co-authored in 2005 with former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican.
“While our report noted a few good and bad examples of vote-by-mail practices, its main recommendation was that further study of voting by mail was needed,” Carter wrote. But “in the 16 years since the report’s release,” he continued, “vote-by-mail practices have progressed significantly as new technologies have been developed. In light of these advances, I believe that voting by mail can be conducted in a manner that ensures election integrity.”
Carter issued his statement from the Carter Center, the organization he founded in 1982, a year after leaving the White House, as an outlet for his advocacy for public health, human rights and democracy.
The Center has monitored more than 110 elections in 39 countries since 1989. At home, Carter has mostly steered clear of partisan politics. But he characterizes ballot access as a fundamental matter transcending party, and in recent years he has become more openly critical of the health of democracy in the United States.
He has repeatedly called the U.S. an “oligarchy,” and in 2020, the Carter Center for the first time designated the United States as a “backsliding” democracy. The center announced after the Democratic National Convention, as Trump escalated his initial rounds of attacks on a “rigged” election, that it would devote resources to ensuring free and fair U.S. elections this fall.
Carter said Tuesday it’s possible for the U.S. to maintain wide access to the ballot while ensuring the security Republicans insist they want.
“American democracy means every eligible person has the right to vote in an election that is fair, open, and secure,” Carter said. “It should be flexible enough to meet the electorate’s changing needs.”