Georgia Republicans Pass Sweeping Bill Restricting Voting Rights

Georgia’s Republican-controlled State Senate passed an omnibus bill Monday that would end no-excuse absentee voting in the state.

The omnibus legislation severely restricts who can vote by mail, requires those without a driver’s license to submit a copy of approved ID twice while registering to vote by mail, bars election officials from sending unsolicited absentee ballot request forms, and requires emergency election rule changes to be approved by lawmakers within 20 days. That package is expected to pass the House.

In addition to Monday’s bill, the Senate is also considering an omnibus that passed the House last week that includes further ID requirements for absentee voting and restricts more racially diverse counties that lean Democratic from offering early voting on weekends. Last week, the state’s House also passed a law that would criminalize handing out water bottles to people waiting in line to vote.

In its marathon session, the legislature is also considering additional election-related bills that would aid Republican efforts at voter suppression. One would end the automatic voter registration that has led to a 93 percent increase in voter registrations and record voter turnout in the state since it was implemented in 2016. Another would create a statewide jury to hear cases of election fraud, which is currently basically nonexistent in the country.

The wave of bills to restrict voting in Georgia is a keystone in the countrywide Republican effort to restrict voting after the 2020 election drew record turnout. Georgia is a particular target after the state flipped blue in November due largely to the state’s Black voters turning out in droves, thanks to the work of grassroots organizers. Georgia voters aided in handing Democrats the White House and the Senate this election cycle.

Though Republicans have offered a host of reasons for offering these bills, many of them are squarely aimed at suppressing the vote. When more voters turn out, Republicans are more likely to lose elections. In a hearing on the Senate omnibus, SB 241, American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia Director Christopher Bruce said that the bill “treats the government like a babysitter who has to give voters permission to cast a ballot.”

The restrictions won’t affect everyone equally, and some of them seem to openly target Black voters. The House omnibus limits early voting to only one Sunday prior to elections, for instance, and Sundays are known to be huge drivers of Black voter turnout across the country thanks to “souls to the polls” events.

Voters of color also disproportionately have to wait in long lines in order to vote, which could be a reason for Republicans trying to bar handing out food and water in voting lines. All of these restrictions combined led Democratic State Rep. Jasmine Clark to call the House bill “textbook voter suppression.”

“The only reason you have these bills is because they lost,” Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees the African Methodist Episcopal Church churches in Georgia, told The New York Times. “What makes it even more troubling than that is there is no other way you can describe this other than racism, and we just need to call it what it is.’’

One Democratic lawmaker denounced the Republican efforts as “white supremacy.” “It’s pathetically obvious to anyone paying attention that, when Trump lost the November election and Georgia flipped control of the U.S. Senate for Democrats shortly after, Republicans got the message that they were in a political death spiral,” said Georgia State Rep. Renitta Shannon during the House’s debate of the omnibus. “And now they are doing anything they can to silence the voices of Black and brown voters specifically because they largely powered these wins.”

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice found that Georgia Republicans’ pushes to restrict voting will hurt Black voters the most. Voting by mail surged among Black voters in the state during the 2020 election. And, in 2020, Black voters made up 36 percent of the share of Sunday early voters in the state versus only about 27 percent of early voters on other days.

No-excuse absentee voting was initially a Republican proposal when it passed in 2005, aimed at getting more Republicans to vote. But absentee voting has turned against them, and they’re now trying to repeal that bill.

“This is voter suppression under the spurious guise of ‘election integrity,’” noted The New York Times’s 2020 election correspondent Trip Gabriel.

“There were simply not all of these questions about the integrity about voting by mail when it was mostly Republicans, largely white seniors, using this method,” said Shannon last week. “But now that Black and brown voters have used vote [by] mail to show up in ways like they never have before, now there are questions about the integrity of vote by mail.”

The Georgia bills are part of efforts by Republicans across the country to restrict voting. Republicans have introduced, pre-filed or carried over 253 bills as of February with the goal of restricting voting access, according to the Brennan Center. Republicans are also behind a case in the Supreme Court that could severely weaken what’s left of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that result in racial voting discrimination.