The bill sets new limits on early in-person voting and adds identification requirements for absentee ballots.
ATLANTA (CN) — As protesters sat in shackles outside of the Georgia State Capitol on Monday, the House passed a controversial bill that imposes substantial restrictions on early and absentee voting.
The legislation requires more identification to apply for an absentee ballot, limits where ballot drop boxes can be located and curtails early voting hours.
HB 531, sponsored by Republican Representative Barry Fleming of Harlem, passed with a 97-72 vote Monday afternoon. The bill has been slammed by Democrats as a form of voter suppression and comes after the GOP suffered big election losses in the state.
Speaking before the vote, Fleming called the restrictions “common-sense measures” and asserted that the bill is “designed to address and help with the ease to begin an effort to restore confidence in our election system.”
Before the proceedings, Speaker of the House David Ralston called for civility in the debate.
“This chamber is not a political rally for one side or the other,” said Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “It is a legislative body and will conduct itself in that fashion.”
Outside the Capitol, demonstrators held signs and chanted against voter suppression. Some sat on the ground tied together with shackles in protest of HB 531.
Representative Jasmine Clark, one of the Democrats who spoke against the bill, called the legislation “textbook voter suppression,” while Representative Mike Wilensky said it is an attack on voting rights and “will disproportionally impact Black and brown Georgians trying to cast a ballot.”
Speaking in favor of the bill, Republican Representative Alan Powell claimed “there were untold numbers of people who voted” in the presidential election, adding that “they created such a problem with the system, because our system is flawed, ladies and gentlemen. The system is flawed because the counties – 159 counties – run the election system.”
“I will support anyone’s right to vote,” he added. “But I also think that everybody has a responsibility to do it right.”
The 66-page bill calls for restrictions on early and absentee voting, including limiting hours for advance voting to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and reducing Sunday early voting to one optional Sunday in each county. It also stipulates that ballot drop boxes can only be placed at in-person voting places.
Georgians who want to vote absentee would have to apply and provide additional identification – a driver’s license number, state ID number or photo ID – to be reviewed by state election officials, who would have the authority to reject ballots for lack of the required identification.
The bill also establishes a deadline for absentee ballot requests of 11 days before an election. A record 1.3 million Georgians cast absentee ballots in the 2020 presidential election.
In addition, HB 531 prohibits election superintendents or boards of registrars from accepting private funding and calls for more training of poll workers and watchers.
Delivering the Democrats’ minority report, Representative Rhonda Burnough said Georgia “has been a leader in providing voters more options to vote than most states.”
“So why would we undermine our own success?” Burnough asked. “That is exactly what this bill does.”
Representative Bee Nguyen followed by bluntly calling the legislation “Jim Crow with a new suit and tie.”
The bill now goes to the state Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans.
Also on Monday, the Senate Ethics Committee voted 7-5 to move forward on SB 241, another GOP-backed bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting in the state unless the voter is over 65 years old or has a disability.
Georgia has played a pivotal role on the national political scene of late, as voters in the historically red state narrowly elected Democrat Joe Biden in November and unseated a pair of incumbent Republican U.S. senators in historic runoff elections on Jan 5.
Former President Donald Trump refused to concede and has continuously spread lies about the election being “rigged” based on unproven claims of voting fraud, particularly in the Peach State. Trump has been especially critical of Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican who recorded a conversation in which the then-president pressured him to “find” 11,780 more votes to overturn the results.
A statewide recount confirmed Biden’s victory, but even if Trump had been awarded Georgia’s 16 electoral college votes, Biden still would have surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Trump was overwhelmingly unsuccessful in his attempts to challenge the results in courts across the nation.