One of the Gwinnett County Republican Party’s two representatives on the bipartisan county elections board told fellow members of the GOP that she favors major elections changes at the local and state levels, including a move away from no excuse absentee voting for many Georgians.
Alice O’Lenick, who is the Gwinnett Board of Registrations and Elections chairwoman for 2021 and 2022, encouraged members of her party to write letters and make phone calls to state legislators to encourage them to make changes to state elections laws.
Republicans in Georgia, including members of the state legislature, have been calling for changes after experiencing losses in the 2020 election cycle. In that cycle, the Democratic Party had big wins in the state in the presidential, 7th Congressional District and both U.S. Senate races.
“I was on a Zoom call the other day and I said, ‘I’m like a dog with a bone. I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws,’ “ O’Lenick said. “They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts of them so that we at least have a shot at winning.”
O’Lenick — who referred to 2020 as a “terrible elections cycle” during the GOP meeting — outlined several changes pertaining to elections that she would like to see made in Georgia. Several of them pertain to how Georgians can cast ballots ahead of election day.
One of them is having the state require up to 21 days of early voting — officially called advance-in-person voting — with one mandatory Saturday voting day and one mandatory Sunday voting day. County elections officials should be free to set their own hours on the Sunday voting, she said.
Two even bigger changes would center around absentee voting in Georgia, however.
One would be a partial rollback of no excuse absentee-by-mail voting. Georgia has had no excuse absentee voting for more than a decade and its popularity exploded in 2020 as officials at the Georgia Secretary of State’s office pushed it as a safe alternative for voters who were concerned about waiting in line to vote amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
O’Lenick suggested only certain population groups should be allowed to ask for an absentee ballot without giving a reason for the request.
“The absentee-by-mail, you exclude the elderly and infirm (from needing an excuse), and everyone else would have to have an excuse,” she said. “We took out a few years ago absentee-by-mail for cause, so you don’t have to say a cause. You just say, ‘It’s not convenient. I’m just not going to go (on election day).’”
The other change related to absentee ballots that O’Lenick is advocating would entail banning absentee ballot drop boxes, which was a new option introduced in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The ballot drop boxes have to go,” she said. “I’ve had an attorney on Jan. 5 that was sent by the (Republican National Committee), two of them, that stood outside Gwinnett (election) headquarters and all they did was photograph people dropping absentee ballots in that box that’s right, as you’re looking at the office, to the left of the front door.
“They did not see one person that was dropping in one ballot at a time, and they came to me and said, ‘Alice, why in the world do you have this here?’ And, I said, ‘Well, A, I didn’t put it there (and), B, I complained about it.’”
At the local level, where her role as elections board chairwoman gives her greater influence, O’Lenick said she wants to take a look at Gwinnett County’s voter registration rolls.
“As chairman, I am going to push that Gwinnett County update the voter registration rolls to make sure that people who live out of the state are no longer on the Gwinnett County rolls,” O’Lenick said. “We don’t seem to have a lot of dead people on our rolls, but we’re going to check that out too.
“We’re also going to check out whether people are legal or not. We did have in our provisional ballots — normally we have anywhere from two to five people who are non-citizens that think because they have a driver’s license then they can come and vote. This time around, for the senatorial races, we had much more than that.”
O’Lenick also wants the legislature to address voter rolls as well.
“We need to make sure that we put pressure on our elected officials, both in the state House and the state Senate, that election laws will be changed,” she said. “I have offered my opinions. My No. 1 is the rolls. We have to make sure only people who live in Gwinnett County or live in Georgia are on the voter registration rolls.”
The county’s elections board is made up of two representatives of the Gwinnett county Republican Party and two representatives of the Gwinnett County Democratic Party as well as a fifth member who is chosen by the rest of the board. It is set to hold its next meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday at gwinnettgov.webex.com/gwinnettgov/onstage/g.php?MTID=ed57454b04ae94345c65d29ef42571087.