Voting rights advocates and top businesses in the states have successfully pressured the Georgia GOP into dropping elements of proposed voting legislation that threatened to deliver devastating blows to voting rights in the state. Those blows came in the form of an outright ban on no-excuse absentee voting and an attack on Black voters which would have forced counties to choose between opening polls on Saturdays or Sundays, when Black voting rights groups traditioning held "souls to the polls" voter outreach events. A new Senate bill the state House passed on Thursday, however, upholds restrictive elements of other proposed GOP legislation in Georgia.
With only eight days left in the state legislative session, Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein tweeted that the Georgia House adopted the measure on a party-line vote working to “restrict drop boxes, require voter ID for mail-in ballots and gives the Republican-controlled Legislature more authority over local elections officials." That dropbox restriction, by the way, would require the boxes be held inside early voting sites, promoting the kind of redundancy only the losing party in three total state Senate and presidential elections could attempt to justify.
The bill was rushed to the Senate, where it was passed, and Gov. Brian Kemp announced that he signed it into law on Thursday, according to Georgia Democrats.
Democratic Rep. Park Cannon was reportedly detained in the process of trying to watch the governor sign the bill, journalist Hannah Joy Gebresilassie posted on Instagram. "Where are you taking me?" the lawmaker asked as she was being detained. Her detainment was reminiscent of the arrest of Nikema Williams, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, who refused to leave the floor during a legislative special session in November of 2018. Williams and other protesters were advocating for all votes to be counted in the gubernatorial race between Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams.
“This is a sad day for Georgia,” Williams said in a statement about the new voting law. “Senate Bill 202 – the most flagrantly racist, partisan power grab of elections in modern Georgia history – is a slap in the face to Georgia’s civil rights legacy.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms tweeted: “The passage of SB 202 is deeply disappointing. This divisive bill is unnecessary and is designed to suppress voter turnout in communities of color and other minority groups. It is shameless to change the rules of the game simply because you lost.”
“The measure is now sent to the Georgia Senate, which has adopted its own version of the measure,” Bluestein said in another tweet. “I’ve heard from multiple sources there’s an outside chance the two chambers hash out their disagreements *today* for final passage though Monday might be more attainable ...”
Democratic state Rep. Erica Thomas told the AJC it is “unbelievable that there are still some people trying to stop people from voting today.” “You are changing the rules, cutting the voting hours, and making it more difficult for people to vote,” she said. “Too many people fought, bled, and died for our right to vote.”
The proposed law, which the Senate originally passed as a two-page proposal to make sure eligible voters didn’t repeatedly receive absentee ballot applications, was expanded into a nearly 100-page legislative document on March 17. Republican Rep. Barry Fleming told the AJC the proposal wasn’t actually new and just combined elements of Senate Bill 241, which threatened no-excuse absentee voting, and House Bill 531, which added the weekend voting restriction, included a voter ID requirement in the absentee voting process, and limited the use of drop boxes.
Even top Republican officials in Georgia opposed the House bill. “Republicans don’t need election reform to win,” Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said in the interview on Sunday. “We need leadership. I think there’s millions of Republicans waking up around the country that are realizing that Donald Trump’s divisive tone and strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections.”
Although the restrictions on Sunday voting and no-excuse absentee voting didn’t make it to Senate Bill 202, the Democratic Party of Georgia said in a statement the bill is similarly restrictive. That would explain why GOP lawmakers “hijacked the two-page bill at the last minute, turning it into a 93-page voter suppression omnibus bill and rushing it through committee before allowing full public scrutiny,” in the words of Georgia Democrats.
“The GOP just won’t stop when it comes to making it harder for Georgians to vote,” the state party added in its statement. “Senate Bill 202 contains the worst of their party’s racist voter suppression tactics, such as restricting absentee voting, making runoffs nearly impossible to implement, and allowing partisan actors to take control of elections. 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.”
Bishop Reginald Jackson of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church told NPR try as they may, no measure to block the Black vote will prosper. "We gather in our churches on Sunday morning, you have morning worship and then after the service you get on the church buses, church vans, get in cars and people go to vote," he said, describing “souls to the polls”.
"If you go back to early times of Jim Crow, even though they did everything to make it hard for us to vote, our ancestors still made every gallant effort,” Jackson added. “They cast their ballot. Blacks are resilient."
It would be nice if we didn’t have to be.
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