Georgia GOP leaders who stood up to Trump back voting bills

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FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2020, file photo, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks to reporters during a COVID-19 update in the Capitol in Atlanta. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won wide praise last fall for firmly rejecting former President Donald Trumps false claims of voter fraud. But now that those claims have spawned an effort to tighten voting laws, one that could impact their political fortunes, the two Republicans are taking a softer approach. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

ATLANTA – Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger won wide praise last fall for firmly rejecting then-President Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud. But now that those claims have spawned an effort to tighten voting laws — one that could affect their political fortunes — the two Republicans are taking a softer approach.

Both men say they support Georgia Republicans' efforts to enact an ID requirement for absentee voting that would do away with the state's signature matching system, which Trump heavily attacked.

Their positions illustrate how central tightening access to the ballot has become in the GOP agenda — embraced even among those who have publicly refuted claims of fraud or stolen elections.

But it also highlights the difficult politics for Republicans as they weigh how far to go to that end. While the bills being pushed in Georgia and several other states have the backing of a GOP base that embraces Trump, they also could stir up Democratic backlash, not to mention make it harder for GOP voters to cast ballots.

For Raffensperger and Kemp, both up for reelection in a state where Democrats are ascendant, that's a dual threat that could lead to defeat in 2022.

Kemp, Raffensperger and their aides are working quietly with Republican legislators to craft changes to absentee and early voting they believe can strike a balance. That may mean jettisoning or at least relaxing some of the proposals circulating in the Republican-run General Assembly, which include scrapping an automatic voter registration law and banning early voting on Sundays, a move that appeared aimed at ending “souls to the polls” voter drives run by Black churches.

But the Republican leaders have been cautious about publicly opposing any individual measure. “I think it should be easy to vote and hard to cheat,” Kemp said Wednesday, recycling a go-to line from his days as secretary of state.

Raffensperger has tacitly aligned himself with Republicans who question voting by mail, even after he mailed ballot applications to every registered voter in Georgia last spring as the coronavirus pandemic upended primary elections. “I have always had some questions about the absentee ballots,” he said in an interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting.