Democrats, voting rights advocates blast new Georgia election bill
The Republicans at Georgia State House have introduced a 48-page draft bill that, if passed, would fundamentally change the state's electoral processes.
Republicans on the committee argued that the bill, which addresses multiple areas of electoral law, would help restore confidence in the elections in Georgia, but Democrats and proponents of voting rights blew it up as a "Voter Suppression Bill" and put it up Questioned the motive behind the rush to bring it to the committee just hours after its inception.
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"This bill seems to offer solutions to many problems that don't exist. It's supposed to be supposed to improve security and integrity, but ... a lot of those provisions don't," said Saira Draper, director for the protection of Democrats Georgia Party said in an interview. "It is restricting all of our voting options in Georgia ... but the brunt of the impact is being felt mostly by our black and brown voters."
During the Thursday and Friday hearings, Republicans defended Law HB 531 as vital in restoring public confidence in elections and strengthening security. According to a poll in January, close to 40% of Georgian voters believe that there was widespread fraud in the last presidential election. 75% of the Republicans alone.
PHOTO: Voters register with poll workers at a polling station for the 2020 presidential election in Atlanta on November 3, 2020. (Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)
"We are doing the best we can to ensure that our vote is safe and that someone's vote cannot be stolen," said Republican MP Barry Fleming, chairman of the Special Committee on Electoral Integrity, on Friday. "Our duty of care in this legislature is to keep our laws updated to protect the sanctity of voting. The reason people don't rob banks every day is because banks have taken precautions to prevent it."
At least 165 bills across the country that would restrict access to voting rights are being considered as of early February, according to the impartial Brennan Center for Justice. The legal and political organization claims these bills are "an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud following the 2020 elections".
These false fraud allegations were led by former President Donald Trump and were disproportionately directed against battlefield states he had lost, including Georgia.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly stated that while there are individual cases of fraud in every election, there were no widespread or systematic cases of fraud in November.
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Amber McReynolds, an election administration expert and CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, told ABC News that the Georgia elections are more accessible than many other states, but that doesn't mean they're perfect.
"There are ways to improve what they have been doing to improve the process for the electorate at the same time, to cut costs and get some efficiency gains and to improve security - and there is a way to do all of those things at the same time to do, "she said. "Sometimes the legislation doesn't look at things broadly and this is an example of that."
McReynolds, an unaffiliated voter, met with Republicans in the General Assembly as they draft electoral laws and testified on HB 531 Friday.
While there are parts of the bill that have been praised by electoral administrators, the sections relating to early personal and postal voting by email are pushed back significantly by proponents.
PHOTO: A polling officer hands out pens and clipboards to fill out registration cards as people queue to vote at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville, Georgia on October 30, 2020. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images, FILE)
Legislation would prevent counties from voting on the two Sundays that fall in the early three weeks and only allow them to do so on a Saturday. Currently, the boroughs must have locations that are open on weekdays and on Saturdays. However, you can add more days if they fall within the specified period, which ends on the Friday before an election.
Fleming said this would bring "uniformity" to the early voting.
"Uniformity is not justice," said Draper. "Fulton County has different needs ... than small, rural counties with a small number of voters, so originally this law was flexible."
She noted that "Souls to the Polls" events held by black churches in the major subway areas were "an effective voting mechanism", but eliminating the early voting on Sunday would also limit that.
During the 2020 cycle, the State Election Board passed an emergency rule that allows counties to introduce Dropboxing. While this bill would be the first to actively sanction dropboxes, it would also limit their future use and require early coordination in locations and only accessible when those locations are open.
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Richmond County's polling officer Lynn Bailey testified Friday that if the dropboxes need to be in these locations, at least they should be outside so they're more accessible. Cobb County's election officer Janine Eveler agreed with her testimony.
McReynolds said voters across the political spectrum like dropboxing and caution against restricting their accessibility.
"A lot of people prefer to hand their ballot directly to a Dropbox or an election judge because it gets there faster," she said. "There are ways to improve security ... but just restricting access to the boxes doesn't really improve security. It actually hurts."
Under this law, voters would not be able to use Dropboxes on election day or in the three days before. However, writing ballot papers during this time is risky as they have to be received by 7:00 p.m. on election day. In Georgia, the largest percentage of postal ballot papers rejected are those that arrive late.
PHOTO: An election observer assists a voter as she drops a postal ballot into a dropbox outside a polling station for the Atlanta 2020 presidential election on November 3, 2020. (Elijah Nouvelage / Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE)
The bill would also add a new postal voting identification requirement and eliminate the signature match process.
Voters are currently required to provide photo identification when voting in person, but not by post. HB 531 would require postal voters to include their driver's license or state identification number on their applications and on the oath envelopes containing the ballot. If a voter does not have this type of identification, he or she must enclose a photocopy of another form of accepted identification with the application.
According to Fleming, 97% of Georgia voters have a driver's license or state ID, though it's unclear where that number came from.
But even if only 3% of voters are missing, additional hurdles that even a small number of voters face are important "if we really want everyone to vote," said Poy Winichakul, an attorney who worked on behalf of the United States Voter testifies to NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.
"They propose these requirements when they are not required," added Winichakul, speaking directly to the chairman. "There is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud."
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But Ryan Germany, the general counsel in Raffensperger's office, said that unless the state shifts from a subjective to an objective method of verifying postal votes, election officials could become targets, as some did after November.
"They just want to be neutral referees," he said.
According to McReynolds, electoral legislation must meet several priorities, including fairness, accessibility, security, transparency and equality.
"All of these values are equally important," she said. "It seems like we have to work with all of these values in balance to get it right for this particular piece of legislation and all subsequent bills."
The hearing on Friday ended without a motion on the bill, and another hearing will take place on Monday.
Democrats, Voters Blast New Georgia Election Bill Originally Posted on abcnews.go.com
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