The legislation expands in-person early voting in most elections but restricts ballot drop boxes, adds ID requirements for absentee ballots, bans handing out food and water to voters waiting in line, and allows the state to take over local election boards.
ATLANTA (CN) — Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday signed a GOP-sponsored bill overhauling Georgia’s elections laws.
SB 202 would allow for unlimited challenges to voter eligibility, shorten Georgia’s runoffs from nine weeks to four weeks, restrict the use of 24/7 drop boxes so they can only be used inside early voting locations during voting hours, and prohibit people from passing out food and water to voters waiting in line.
The bill passed along party lines in the Georgia House of Representatives Thursday afternoon and was quickly pushed through the Senate in a 34-20 vote. Kemp signed the bill into law less than two hours later.
Democrats and voting rights activists immediately denounced the bill after its passage in the House Thursday.
“The GOP just won’t stop when it comes to making it harder for Georgians to vote. Senate Bill 202 contains the worst of their party’s racist voter suppression tactics,” Scott Hogan, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a statement Thursday. “This bill is not about election integrity – it’s simply another GOP push to revive Jim Crow and turn our elections into a disaster in order to suppress votes.”
Republicans say the legislation is part of a necessary effort to bolster election security and voter confidence. Voting rights activists say the bills are part of a backlash against Democratic and minority voters following record turnout in the 2020 election and January runoffs. The surge in turnout helped Georgia elect a Democratic president for the first time in nearly three decades and send two Democrats to the Senate.
SB 202 also introduces new hurdles for those who want to vote via absentee ballot.
Voters would have to request absentee ballots 11 days before an election, rather than the Friday before Election Day as the current law allows, and would be required to provide their Georgia driver’s license number or state ID to both apply for and return the ballot.
In addition, the legislation will prohibit third parties from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who have already requested, received or turned in a mail-in ballot.
The legislation also gives Georgia’s GOP-controlled legislature more control over election administration. Democrats objected to a provision in the bill that will remove the secretary of state as chair of the State Election Board and give state officials the right to replace local election officials.
Some of the bill’s controversial provisions were abandoned when it passed out of committee, including language that would have restricted weekend voting.
The legislation now expands early voting in general elections in most counties, requiring local officials to hold early voting on both Saturdays of the three-week early voting period as opposed to just one. But the early voting period before runoff elections would be reduced to a minimum of just one week.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Representative Barry Fleming, claimed during Thursday’s floor debate that the bill “expands accessibility” for voters. Fleming said that the bill “greatly improves the process of administration of elections while at the same time providing more accountability to ensure the integrity of the vote is properly preserved.”
Voting rights activists slammed the bill when it was introduced last week and denounced its passage Thursday.
Charlie Fleming, president of the Georgia chapter of the AFL-CIO, called the bill “the most aggressively racist attack on Georgia voting rights since Jim Crow” and “an all-out assault on working Georgians’ right to vote.”
Christopher Bruce, political director of the Georgia ACLU, said Thursday that with the passage of SB 202, the Georgia House has made “the best case possible” for passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act. The two proposed federal laws would restore and strengthen provisions of the Voting Rights Act.
Bruce said the GOP’s efforts to clamp down on voting rights is nothing more than backlash against minority voters.
“Ever since Black people have had the right to vote, you’ve had people trying to take it away. We have to continue to fight daily on these measures and we will fight and we will win,” Bruce said.