Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan outlined his priorities for the 2021 legislative session at the State Capitol on Jan. 26, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan became the latest high-ranking Georgia Republican Tuesday to oppose ending no-excuse absentee voting following the state’s 2020 election cycle.

Duncan, who presides over the state Senate, said halting the ability of Georgians to request mail-in ballots for any reason besides just living out of state or due to disability should not be part of “meaningful election reform” state Republicans are seeking in the 2021 legislative session.

His stance mirrors Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who earlier this month also urged Republican lawmakers to avoid proposals ending no-excuse absentee voting. Ralston wants to focus on changing voter ID laws to require photo identification when requesting mail-in ballots instead of signature verification.

“I think the best step forward is for us to just look for an opportunity to create a photo ID process,” Duncan said. “I think that best fits the needs of 11 million Georgians.”

While ending no-excuse absentee voting looks in doubt, top state Republicans including Duncan, Ralston, Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have all called for tighter voter ID laws for requesting mail-in ballots – a move Democratic lawmakers oppose.

Efforts to change Georgia’s election laws will likely be among the top issues in the General Assembly session that began Jan. 11 after Democrats carried Georgia in the 2020 presidential election and flipped both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats, largely due to historically huge mail-in voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Raffensperger, who is the state’s election chief, has pressed for limiting who can vote by mail after county election officials were overwhelmed with millions of absentee ballots in the June 9 primaries, the Nov. 3 general election and the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs.

The Georgia Senate Republican Caucus also called for eliminating no-excuse absentee voting after election fraud claims pushed by former President Donald Trump and his allies stirred mistrust among many Georgia conservatives over the state’s election integrity.

Duncan was among the first Republican state leaders to dismiss the election fraud claims, even as several Republican members of his chamber held hearings after Nov. 3 that let Trump’s allies air their claims unchecked. State election officials and federal courts repeatedly dismissed the claims.

Additionally, state Senate Republicans have pushed for outlawing the popular absentee ballot drop boxes used in the 2020 elections, a proposal Duncan said has “pros and cons” that should be settled in committee debates.

“I think that’s one of those issues where we’ll create a solid work product that an overwhelming majority of Georgians will agree with,” Duncan said Tuesday.

Democratic state lawmakers have condemned Republicans’ targeting of election laws, likening voter ID and absentee-voting changes as attempts at voter suppression. They have already filed bills to permit same-day voter registration, restore voting rights for felons and require counties to set up absentee drop boxes.

Duncan also said Tuesday he wants to focus this session on legislation aimed at improving foster-care services in Georgia, creating a new special-needs scholarship and changing the state’s controversial citizen’s arrest law.