Georgia Republicans have unveiled extensive new legislation that would make it dramatically more difficult to vote in the state, following an election with record turnout and growing turnout among black voters.
The move is one of the most brazen efforts to make it difficult to vote in the United States in recent years. The bill would prevent officials from offering early voting on Sundays, a day traditionally used by black churches to mobilize voters as part of a “souls to the polls” effort. It would impose new limits on the use of vote-by-mail boxes, restrict who can handle an absentee ballot, and require voters to provide their driver’s license number or a copy of other identification with their application for a vote-by-mail ballot. It would also require voters to provide the same driver’s license information on the mail-in ballot or the last four digits of their social security number if they don’t have acceptable identification.
The bill gives voters less time to request and return ballots by mail, not only bringing forward the deadline for returning an application but also limiting applications to begin 78 days before an election instead of the current 180. It requires election officials to reject ballots mistakenly cast in the wrong precinct and prohibits organizers from offering food or water to voters lining up to cast their vote.
“With exact precision, the bill targets voters of color,” said Nse Ufot, head of the New Georgia Project, one of the groups that mobilized voters of color in Georgia. “Republicans in Georgia saw what happens when black voters have power and run to the polls, and now they are launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of black Georgians.”
Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, one of the groups that helped mobilize black voters last year, said there was no justification for the bill. One of the ways that Butler’s group helped voters before the election was by helping them return their absentee ballot requests to election officials. The Republican proposal would ban it.
“There is no other reason for this other than this ideology and this misinformation that there was fraud. There was no fraud in the election. The governor, everyone said there was no fraud, “he said in an interview.
In a hearing Thursday, Barry Fleming, a sponsor of the bill, said the changes to early voting were an attempt to create uniformity across the state. He said the effort to shorten the voting-by-mail period was an attempt to overlap it with voting in person.
The effort to shorten voting by mail comes after many voters experienced severe delays in getting their ballots by mail due to delays with the United States Postal Service and overwhelmed election offices. About a third of the first votes in the state were from black voters and Joe Biden overwhelmingly won the vote by mail in Georgia.
“Your new problem with early voting is simple: Too many black Georgians used it and Republicans were humiliated,” said Seth Bringman, spokesman for Fair Fight Action, the civic action group led by Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
“Instead of listening to the wishes of conspiracy theorists and insurgents, you should listen to the thousands of early voters in your district from both parties.”
Republicans promised changes in Georgia after Joe Biden narrowly won the state in November and Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, won startling surprises over Republican rulers in November.
State officials, including Republicans, have repeatedly said there was no evidence of election fraud, but Republicans have vowed to impose new restrictions anyway.
A separate bill being considered in the state senate would eliminate unexcused absentee voting, something Republicans signed into law in 2005 that only allows people to vote by mail. if they are 75 years or older or have an excuse.
Republicans released Thursday’s bill a little more than an hour before the hearing, giving the public and lawmakers little time to review its contents. More than two dozen groups wrote to Fleming on Thursday, urging him to stop considering the measure.
“It contains a set of proposals that would have devastating consequences for voting rights in Georgia,” they wrote. “It is absolutely unacceptable that Georgia legislators, advocates and the people of Georgia have been caught off guard by this statement.”
The effort in Georgia comes amid a national push, led by Republicans, to enact a wave of new voting restrictions after the 2020 election. There are at least 165 pending bills in 33 states that would make it harder to vote. , according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.
“The right lost! So now they are trying to change the rules and make it more difficult to vote, ”Deborah Scott, executive director of Georgia Stand-Up, another group that worked to mobilize black voters, said in an email. “It is a shame that in 2021 black and brown people in Georgia will have to continue fighting for our citizenship rights.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism