By Sam Levine, Guardian UK
Bill that would restrict early voting on Sundays denounced as ‘concerted effort to suppress the votes of Black Georgians’
Georgia Republicans have unveiled sweeping new legislation that would make it dramatically harder to vote in the state, following an election with record turnout and surging participation among Black voters.
The measure is one of the most brazen efforts to make it harder to vote in America in recent years. The bill would block 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 place new limits on the use of mail-in ballot dropboxes, 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 mail-in ballot. It would also require voters to provide the same driver’s license information on the mail-in ballot itself or the last four digits of their social security number if they do not have an acceptable ID.
The bill gives voters less time to request and return mail-in ballots, not only moving up the deadline to return an application but also limiting requests to start 78 days ahead of an election instead of the current 180. It requires election officials to reject ballots mistakenly cast in the wrong precinct and bans organizers from offering food or water to voters standing in line to cast a ballot.
“With exacting precision, the bill targets voters of color,” said Nse Ufot, chief of the New Georgia Project, one of the groups that mobilized voters of color in Georgia. “Georgia Republicans saw what happens when Black voters are empowered and show up at the polls, and now they’re launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of Black Georgians.”
Helen Butler, the 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 Butler’s group helped voters ahead of the election was by assisting them in returning their absentee ballot applications to election officials. The Republican proposal would prohibit that.
“There’s no reason for it 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,” she said in an interview.
In a hearing on Thursday, Barry Fleming, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes to early voting were an attempt to create uniformity across the state. He said the effort to shorten the mail-in voting period was an attempt to make it overlap with in-person voting.
The effort to shorten mail-in voting comes after many voters saw severe delays in getting their mail-in ballots because of delays with the United States Postal Service and overwhelmed election offices. About one-third of early votes in the state were from Black voters and Joe Biden overwhelmingly won the mail-in vote in Georgia.
“His newfound problem with early voting is simple: too many Black Georgians used it, and Republicans were humiliated,” said Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight action, the civic action group led by Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
“Instead of listening to desires of conspiracy theorists and insurrectionists, he should listen to the thousands of early voters in his district from both parties.”
Republicans pledged the changes in Georgia after Joe Biden narrowly carried the state in November and Jon Ossoff and the Rev Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, won stunning upsets over Republican incumbents in November.
State officials, including Republicans, have said repeatedly there was no evidence of fraud in the elections, but Republicans have vowed to impose new restrictions anyway.
A separate bill under consideration in the state senate would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, something Republicans wrote into law in 2005, allowing people to vote by mail only if they are 75 or older or have an excuse.
Republicans made the bill public a little over an hour before a hearing, giving the public and lawmakers little time to review what was in it. More than two dozen groups wrote to Fleming on Thursday, urging him to pause further consideration of 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 legislators, voting rights advocates, and the people of Georgia have been blindsided by this release.”
The effort in Georgia comes amid a nationwide push, led by Republicans, to enact a wave of new voting restrictions after the 2020 election. There are at least 165 bills pending 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 harder to vote,” Deborah Scott, the 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 have to continue to fight for our citizenship rights.
By Sam Levine, Guardian UK