Former President Jimmy Carter said Tuesday he is “disheartened, saddened and angry” at efforts in Georgia to restrict voting access.

Carter also criticized the misuse by advocates of tougher voting laws of a 16-year-old study from a commission Carter co-chaired in 2015 on vote-by-mail practices.

“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 said. “In the 16 years since the report’s release, 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.”

The Carter Center released the president’s remarks a day after Crossover Day in which numerous voting-related legislation cleared. Bills must advance in the House or Senate by Crossover Day in order to have a chance at passing during this legislative session. 

Georgia has been at the center of a national push by Republicans to install tougher voting measures. To date, more than 250 bills that would make it harder to vote have been introduced in 43 states — more than seven times the number of restrictive bills compared to the same time a year ago, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. 

Here in Georgia, the House and Senate each have passed omnibus bills — S.B. 241 and H.B. 531. SB 241 ends no-excuse absentee voting while HB 531 requires a photo ID for absentee voting, shortens the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot, restricts locations of ballot boxes, and limits early voting hours on weekends. 

Carter’s one-page of remarks noted how he won his bid for the Georgia Senate in 1962 “only after the courts ruled that a ballot box had been illegally ‘stuffed’ with votes for my opponent.” That experience prompted Carter and his wife Rosalynn to create The Carter Center in 1989, which has played a major role in ensuring voter security and access worldwide. Since its foundation, the center has observed 113 elections in 39 countries and helped create consensus on standards for elections worldwide.

“One thing we have learned from our international work is that while states must safeguard the integrity of the election process to prevent fraud, this should not be at the expense of voters’ access to the polls,” Carter said. “They should proactively expand voter access through safe, secure administrative practices.”

Carter cited how Georgia “has established itself as a leader in providing voter access and taking steps to enhance election integrity.” He noted how the state uses technologies that provide a paper trail allowing voters to review their ballot before it is cast.

But Carter made clear his disdain with the proposed changes in the legislature saying they are “rooted in partisan interests, not in the interests of all Georgia voters.”

“Many of the proposed changes 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,” he stated.

“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. As Georgians, we must protect these values.”

You can read President Carter’s full remarks here

(Header image: Former President Jimmy Carter. Photo courtesy of the Carter Center.)