Monday afternoon, an omnibus election reform bill, Senate Bill 241 passed in the Georgia Senate 29-20, along a strict party-line vote, which saw four Republicans abstain from the vote.
Senate Bill 241 would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, which was enacted by Republicans in 2005, just months after a record number of Georgians opted to cast ballots this way in the 2020 presidential election.
“SB 241 creates unnecessary barriers and burdens on voters. It disproportionately impacts racial minorities, the elderly, those that live in rural Georgia, disabled and students,” said State Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta. “The motivations are really suspect because it’s introduced immediately after voters of color dramatically increase their use of absentee voting this past year.”
The sponsor of the measure, State Sen. Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, said during his speech that he wanted to give all eligible voters the tools they need to vote securely.
Also, it gives the State the right to remove underperforming county election directors, bans mobile polling locations, in addition to banning no-excuse absentee voting. The conversation inside the chamber and outside among lobbyists, protesters and the concerned public alike centered around the Senate’s budding rivalry around Fulton County, and their efforts to encourage individuals to vote in the 2020 Presidential Election and runoff races.
Republicans have said these bills will discourage fraud.
“Some of you may think it’s sour grapes or whining over the results of the election,” said Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan. “Even if you think the machines can’t be hacked and all the votes were fairly counted we still need to have faith in the election process.”
Georgia’s second-most powerful Republican, Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, did not preside in the debate on Senate Bill 241 because he does not support the bill. However, he did not have enough sway to stop the bill in the Republican caucus.
“The two and a half million voters who voted in November who are Republican, who maybe have concerns, do have a right to have their voice heard in this capitol,” said State Sen. Jason Anavitarte R-Dallas, as he spoke in support of SB 241. “I’m sure, you know, I’ll get more tweets from LeBron James and other folks about how I’m suppressing votes, but at the end of the day, every vote should count in this state, and I pray over every single one of us as we move forward through this process that we find a way to make sure all Georgians trust the process.”
However, the December 3, 2020 hearing inside the State Capitol and subsequent investigations stemming from the November election, have not turned up any fraud.
“When people talk about wrongdoing and fraud, Fulton County is singled out. That’s why I say I challenge everybody from the top on down to give me some evidence. Any evidence of some wrongdoing in Fulton County and I will look into it,” said Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts.”
“I can’t speak for the other 158 counties, but in Fulton County when I challenged the President [Trump] to come forward with any evidence of any wrongdoing no one came forward with anything significant that would suggest any wrongdoing in Fulton County. But what we have been doing from a proactive point of view was make it easy for people to vote in our county.”
Meanwhile, House Bill 531, as it stands, would require a photo ID for absentee voting, limit the number of time voters have to request an absentee ballot, restrict where ballot drop boxes could be located and when they could be accessed, and limit early voting hours on weekends, including banning Sunday voting.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Black voters (who make up 30 percent of the registered electorate) accounted for 36.5 percent of Sunday voters, but just 26.8 percent of early in-person voters on other days.
“We think we were very innovative in spending some $700,000 on those vehicles we can deploy county-wide if there were any emergencies,” Pitts explained. “There were power outages in Chastain Park and there were calls of extremely long lines. We think we have been creative and proactive and other jurisdictions in Georgia and nationally have adopted what we’ve done.
The measure also drastically reins in the number of absentee ballot drop boxes a county can have to one per every 100,000 voters and requires counties to have a security guard monitor them constantly.
Most of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus has spoken out against these bills because it drives Georgia back to the Jim Crow era and places the right to vote in a tenuous position. Moreover, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, the white voters’ share of the vote-by-mail electorate dropped from 67 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2020; the Black share, meanwhile, surged from 23 percent to 31 percent. Black voters cast their ballot by mail in 2020, but just 24 percent of white voters did so.
“This is not about the process. This is about suppressing the vote of the same group of people, especially me and people who look like me, and I take it personally. I am here in this chamber because of the Voting Rights Act,” State Sen. Gail Davenport said, D-Jonesboro. “Some good-hearted legislators want to please a former selfish, racist leader and his followers. Well, I tell you today, don’t do it.”