Georgia Senate Passes New Voting Restrictions

Despite no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections, Georgia Republicans pushed through legislation that will eliminate no-excuse absentee ballots.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga., on Oct. 12, 2020. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File)

ATLANTA (CN) — In a push to implement voting restrictions that critics say target Black voters, Georgia’s Republican-controlled Legislature on Monday passed a sweeping election bill that repeals no-excuse absentee voting.

Part of a slew of legislation which Republicans say is necessary to tighten security and restore confidence in the electoral process, SB 241 will allow only a small, highly specific subset of Georgians to vote by mail.

The bill passed with a 29-20 vote Monday afternoon and now heads to the Georgia House, where it is expected to pass before the end of the current legislative session.

The Senate is also set to vote Monday on SB 71, a standalone bill which would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting; SB 69, a bill to end automatic voter registration; and two bills to limit absentee ballot application mailings, SB 178 and SB 202.

SB 241’s passage effectively ends the practice of no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia which was first introduced by Republicans in 2005.

Record numbers of voters used the method in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic, most of them Democratic. More than 1.3 million Georgians voted by absentee ballot during the November general election and 1.1 million voted absentee in the January Senate runoff election.

Under SB 241, which was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan and co-sponsored by 31 of the chamber’s 34 Republican senators, voters qualifying for an absentee ballot would have to be 65 years old or older, absent from their precinct, observing a religious holiday, required to provide constant care for someone with a physical disability, required to work “for the protection of the health, life, or safety of the public during the entire time the polls are open,” or be an overseas or military voter.

The bill also creates ID requirements to request an absentee ballot, forcing anyone who does not have a state ID or driver’s license to submit a copy of an approved form of ID when requesting and submitting their ballot.

In introducing the legislation in February, Dugan said it was necessary to reduce ballot processing costs and to relieve stress on local election workers.

Speaking before the vote, Dugan said Georgians will still be able to vote via mail despite the new restrictions.

“This is not preventing anyone from voting by mail-in absentee. All this is doing is laying the groundwork for relieving the stresses we’ll see in the future as we continue to grow,” he said.

Democratic lawmakers have said the legislation is nothing more than backlash to high Democratic and Black turnout in the 2020 election and January runoffs, which saw Georgia elect a Democratic president for the first time in nearly three decades and send two Democrats to the Senate.

During the nearly three hours of debate before Monday’s vote, several Democratic state senators lambasted the bill as unnecessary.

Senator Jen Jordan of Atlanta called the bill “suspect.”

“There’s no evidence that our elections aren’t secure, that any of these things are fixes that are actually needed,” Jordan said.

Senator Elena Parent, also an Atlanta Democrat, said the bill and others like it stem from the “Big Lie” denying the results of the 2020 presidential election.

“The foundation for every one of the elections bills introduced today is based on a lie,” Parent said.

“America is at a turning point right now. Our democracy is in peril and our society divided along increasingly partisan lines,” she said. “It will not work. Voters see through transparent attempts to cling to power through suppressive and anti-democratic means.”

Speaking in defense of the bill, Republican Senator Matt Brass of Newnan said legislation was necessary to restore the confidence of voters.

“When an election result is not believed, when people think results have been tampered with, then people can lose faith in their government,” said Brass. “We still need the people of Georgia to believe in the process, and right now they are unconvinced.”

The Georgia House passed similar voting restrictions last week. HB 531, which advanced with a 97-72 vote, requires more identification to apply for an absentee ballot, limits where ballot drop boxes can be located, and restricts early voting hours to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

The state Senate is expected to vote on HB 531 before the end of the month.

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