The Republican-controlled Georgia Senate voted Monday to pass legislation containing a slew of restrictions to suppress voting rights in the swing state ― a move that follows unprecedented election wins for Democrats in Georgia.
The state legislative chamber voted 29-20 to pass SB 241, which will now go to the Georgia House, where it is also expected to pass. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has refused to say whether he will sign the sweeping voter restriction bill, though as Georgia’s secretary of state he oversaw vote suppression that helped him win office over voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, a Democrat.
The bill would end no-excuse absentee balloting, which was pushed by Republicans when it became law in 2005. Voters who are eligible to vote by mail under the bill would be required to submit a photo ID and have their ballot signed by a witness in order for their vote to count.
About 1.3 million Georgians voted by mail in 2020 ― including 450,000 Republicans ― which led to a historic voter turnout. But with Republicans losing the presidential race in the state for the first time in nearly 20 years as well as two Senate runoff elections in January, the party is changing course. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the number of white mail-in voters fell from 67% in 2016 to 54% ― while the number of Black residents who voted by mail rose from 23% to 31% over the same period.
“In the last two election cycles, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of voters of color who voted by mail, the number of young people who used early voting, the number of African Americans who voted on Saturday and Sunday,” Abrams told Mother Jones magazine on Monday. “We saw unprecedented levels of turnout across the board. And so every single metric of voter access that has been a good in Georgia is now under attack.”
Georgia Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R), who sponsored the bill, claimed when he introduced the legislation in February that limiting absentee voting is necessary to increase certainty that ballots are counted. But polls have found that voters were satisfied with the election process last year and want lawmakers to expand early and absentee voting laws.
The bill would also require a court order to extend polling hours, limit the use of mobile voting sites, give the state legislature power to temporarily block any emergency voting rule changes and create a “voter fraud” hotline that would allow for increased voter intimidation.
Exactly one week ago, Georgia’s House of Representatives approved its own election overhaul bill that, among other things, includes the same voter ID requirement in the state Senate bill and a limit on weekend voting. That bill, HB 531, will now go to the state Senate.
“Georgia has spent the majority of its history systematically erecting barriers designed to dilute the power of Black voters ― all to minimize their political voices on the issues that matter most to them,” said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund. “Decades of hard work by voting rights advocates across the state led to record turnout in 2020 despite the pandemic.”
The effect of HB 531 and SB 241 becoming law this year would clearly be to punish all voters and specifically disenfranchise Black Georgians, young voters and people with disabilities.”
The Republican Party started this year with the clear intention of rolling back voting rights across the country. As of Feb. 19, state lawmakers have carried over, prefiled or introduced at least 253 bills that restrict voting access in 43 states, according to the Brennan Center.
“This is the new Jim Crow,” U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who won Georgia’s Jan. 3 special election, told MSNBC on Monday. “And we must pass HR 1 ― the For the People Act ― and we must pass HR 4 ― the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act ― to end voter suppression and protect the sacred franchise for all Americans.”
Passage of the Georgia Senate bill came one day after the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when marchers calling for an end to voter suppression marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, only to be violently attacked by law enforcement. The 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma was led by the late John Lewis, a civil rights activist who eventually became a congressman representing Atlanta. Lewis died of cancer last year.
“John Lewis gave me my first job. He is looking down on us right now and expecting us to carry the torch forward,” Ossoff said. “The struggle for voting rights and civil rights continues. They are trying to strip the right to vote away from Black Americans once again. We will not stand for it, and as you heard from my good friend Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, we are ready to reform Senate rules to get this done.”