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Georgia State Senator Butch Miller Discusses Controversial Voting Bill

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

A new voting law in Georgia is the subject of outrage from Democrats across the state and the country. President Biden called it Jim Crow in the 21st century. It expands in-person voting, but adds new limitations on mail-in ballots, among other restrictions. It also allows Georgia's state election board to temporarily take over local election offices. That board is currently dominated by Republicans. Voting rights activists are concerned for what all of this might mean for voters in heavily Black and Democratic areas, like Atlanta's Fulton County. That's a place where Republicans repeatedly criticized local election officials after their losses in the 2020 election. Butch Miller is a Republican state senator and one of the co-sponsors of the new law. I spoke with him yesterday.

Isn't there a risk here that a politicized group will step in and infringe on the rights of minorities to vote in Georgia?

BUTCH MILLER: Well, I would say that may be characterized that way, but you could also say that, for instance, Fulton County - it's one of the largest counties in our state - how can the state of Florida, population of 20 million people - how can they count all their votes before Fulton County can count one county's votes? Now, if you're having to wait more than an hour, the polling places are instructed to open up additional booths. So we want there to be a shorter line, more access, more availability, and more secure votes.

MCCAMMON: You mentioned Fulton County. Do you think that the results in Fulton County were legitimate?

MILLER: I think that the results in Fulton County were counted and recounted, and there was no large discrepancy. Of course, it took them five days to do that.

MCCAMMON: Why is speed necessary? I mean, arguably, shouldn't you take your time to make sure that the election results are correct?

MILLER: I think it's ludicrous when you have counties that can't validate their votes for nearly a week after the election.

MCCAMMON: If this legislation had been in place in 2020, do you think the state board of elections should have stepped in in Fulton County?

MILLER: Clearly.

MCCAMMON: Why?

MILLER: Clearly. And I'm not singling out Fulton County. There are other counties. But clearly, there have been habitual offenders, habitual tardiness, habitually poor performing - underperforming voting districts, and Fulton County just happens to have been one.

MCCAMMON: Again, your Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, reviewed the entire vote count three times, including Fulton County's, and said it was legitimate.

MILLER: I was not a party to that process, but wouldn't you agree that we need to have an accurate account and promptness?

MCCAMMON: To what end, though? I mean, you're talking about a scenario in which a Republican-controlled board would be stepping into a predominantly Democratic county. Can't you see how that looks?

MILLER: I can see how that looks. Let me ask you, when do you think would be an accurate number of days? Would it be five days? Fifty days? Would it be months? We have to have a process that has a definitive date and time.

MCCAMMON: And you do in Georgia, which is why the vote is certified at a specific time. And it was recounted and certified again. I mean, you do have a definitive date.

MILLER: But you should have a definitive date prior to five days and you should have a definitive date where the entire state can function within.

MCCAMMON: Senator, you're from a Southern state. You are well aware of the ugly racist history of voting rules designed to target people of color, particularly in the South. And voting rights activists, many of them activists of color, are saying that these measures - things like limiting the placement of ballot drop boxes, which are designed to make it easier for people to vote, especially people who have limited resources.

MILLER: Ballot drop boxes can be used for - one for every 100,000 people. Rather than being put in certain neighborhoods or certain areas. They're done by precinct. They're done by population density. And there's one ballot drop box for every 100,000 people. I'm not sure what the argument is there.

MCCAMMON: Do you have evidence that those drop boxes have resulted in voter fraud?

MILLER: I did not say that. Did I indicate there was? I said there would be one for every 100,000 people. There'll be some consistency, some continuity. Wouldn't you think that would be appropriate? Why would you have 20 drop boxes in a county of 50,000 people? Would that make any sense to you?

MCCAMMON: Well, I used to live in Georgia, sir, and I know that in many of these rural counties, people are spread out quite a bit, and not everybody has a car. I think it's quite possible that there are people that would find multiple drop boxes in their community to be very helpful. And I guess the fundamental question is, why wouldn't you want to make it easier for people to vote?

MILLER: I think we are making it easier for people to vote. We're making it easier for people to vote with consistency and accountability.

MCCAMMON: I have to ask about the provision that's gotten a lot of attention, and this is making it a misdemeanor to hand out food and drink to people waiting in line to vote. We know that some of the longest lines are in places like the Atlanta area, often places that are dominated by voters of color. Why is it necessary to make that a misdemeanor?

MILLER: Your description is a complete and total misrepresentation of the facts.

MCCAMMON: How so?

MILLER: The facts are these. You can have refreshment stations. You can have water stations. You can have food stations. But what you can't do is go from person to person and say, here's a chicken sandwich. By the way, who are you voting for?

MCCAMMON: You already have rules against electioneering. That's a pretty common rule. But why is banning food and drink - bringing it to a person - why is that necessary? What does that accomplish?

MILLER: Well, firstly, you've got it available. I don't know why you're - how you say you're banning it. What you can't do is electioneering. Those are your words. You have to ban electioneering. And that's what we're - what is focused on.

MCCAMMON: If you could speak to some of your colleagues - African American colleagues, Black activists in Georgia, maybe your constituents who feel pain when they see a law like this passed - it reminds them of this ugly history, and they say that this will keep members of the community from voting. How do you address that?

MILLER: Well, the history in the United States is difficult to understand and to accept at times. There have been groups that have been discriminated against. There will be groups that, sadly, will be discriminated against in the future. But we need to set a higher bar than that. We need to do our very best to make sure every single person of whatever color, whatever background has access to the ballot box. And they shouldn't have to wait in line for five hours. What this bill does in many instances is alleviate many of those problems.

MCCAMMON: If it has unintended consequences, will you be willing to come back and change it?

MILLER: Certainly. If this bill or any other bill has unintended consequences, we should always be willing to readdress the issue.

MCCAMMON: That's state Senator Butch Miller of Georgia. Thanks so much.

MILLER: Thank you, Sarah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.