Voting Rights Groups Angered Over Rush on New Georgia Bill

Republican lawmakers introduced a last-minute substitution to a pending bill which would place new limits on voting in Georgia, surprising voting rights advocates before a key committee meeting.

In this Oct. 12, 2020, file photo, voters wait in line to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP)

ATLANTA (CN) — Republican lawmakers introduced yet another omnibus bill Wednesday which would overhaul Georgia’s voting laws and limit access to the ballot box, angering voting rights groups who say they were given only an hour to review the 93-page bill before a key committee meeting.

SB 202 originally passed the Senate on March 8 as a 2-page bill barring third-parties from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who have already requested, received or turned in a mail-in ballot.

During Wednesday’s Special Committee on Election Integrity, Republican state Representative Barry Fleming introduced a substitution that added 50 new sections to the bill. The new version of the legislation integrates elements of prior voting omnibus bills passed in the House and Senate this legislative session.

Fleming, who serves as the chairman of the House Special Committee on Election Integrity, resigned from his role as the county attorney in Hancock County last week under pressure from citizens who oppose his proposed changes to voting laws.

The new SB 202 omnibus includes provisions banning people from handing out food and water to voters waiting in line, limiting early voting days and adding more ID requirements to absentee ballots.

The bill would also add a proposal to create a pilot program to post digital images of scanned paper ballots.

Perhaps most surprisingly, SB 202 would allow Georgians to initiate an unlimited number of challenges to the qualifications of any person applying to register to vote.

The legislation is part of a slew of bills which Republicans say are necessary to beef up election security and restore confidence in the electoral process. Critics say the bills target minority voters as part of the backlash against high Democratic and Black 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.

During a press conference Wednesday afternoon organized by Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams, activists expressed anger with the lack of transparency around the introduction of the bill.

Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, called the process surrounding the bill “disgraceful” and said organizers waited “all day” to find out what the agenda for the hearing would be.

“Here we are on the 33rd day of the session still dealing with these kinds of ambushes,” Young said. “This is not evidence-based policy making, this is not how laws should be made that govern our most precious right that is our right to vote.”

Some of the provisions in SB 202 were passed by the Georgia House in HB 531 earlier this month. HB 531 limits the location and number of drop boxes, requires a driver’s license number or state ID to request an absentee ballot and will remove the Secretary of State as chair of the State Election Board.

The Senate’s omnibus bill, SB 241, passed with a 29-20 vote last week. The bill effectively ends the practice of no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia and creates new ID requirements to request an absentee ballot.

Poy Winichakul, a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, criticized the decision to introduce the bill on the same day a man was arrested in Atlanta for shooting six Asian women in a spree that left eight dead.

“This is happening on a day where the news cycle of Atlanta and Georgia is filled with deeply sad hate crimes and to use this day to shove a 93-page bill that will completely reform elections in Georgia is shameful to say the least,” Winichakul said.

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