When Georgia legislators pushed through a restrictive voting bill during the 2021 session, Bartow County election supervisor Joseph Kirk said he felt frustrated and sidelined.
Lawmakers largely didn’t take election officials’ views into account, he said, and what resulted was a law that included a number of provisions that he said election officials believe are “to the detriment of voters.”
So when Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature tried to pass another voting bill in the session this year that included provisions he didn’t agree with, Kirk made sure to speak out.
“Whatever I could do, I did do,” said Kirk, who serves as the treasurer of the Georgia Association of Voter Registration and Election Officials.
Across the country, election officials this legislative season made their voices heard in hearings and through appeals to lawmakers, urging them not to enact voting laws that they saw as unfeasible or unnecessary, or that would ultimately make their jobs more difficult.
In crucial battleground states including Arizona, Georgia, and Florida, they succeeded in defeating legislation that would have hurt voting access or the integrity of elections.
In Georgia, Kirk disagreed with a portion of the 2022 bill that would have changed chain-of-custody requirements for ballots and would have required what he saw as unnecessary security precautions, so he spoke to his lawmakers and in front of committees and sent in written statements.
Ultimately, the bill passed through the state House but then was gutted in a Senate committee. The only voting-related legislation passed in the state this session concerned the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s power to investigate fraud.
Kirk says he and other election officials consider that a success.
“What we saw was that when we all speak, they tend to listen,” he said. “Especially when we’re all saying basically the same thing.”
Other Georgia officials also spoke up. “Personally I felt empowered this year in a way that I did not last year,” said Dele Lowman Smith, chair of DeKalb County’s elections board. “This year I was not taking it lying down.”
Smith said that election officials representing both Democratic and Republican counties came together to push back against the legislation, and lawmakers took note.
“It wasn’t a partisan issue,” she said. “It was just poor management and ignorance of the election administration process.”
Kirk, who represents a majority Republican county, agreed that politics did not play into his views on election bills.
“As election officials, we’re trying to focus on the administration, not the politics,” he said. “All we want to do is to do a good job and have the laws in place that we need to do a good job.”
Cautious optimism in Arizona
In Arizona, the legislative session is still ongoing but election officials are cautiously optimistic that they successfully defeated the vast majority of the roughly 100 bills that would have been detrimental to their work process and to voter access. Read more