Monday afternoon, the Georgia House of Representatives voted in favor of House Bill 531, a measure that was drawn up as a response to Joe Biden’s win in Georgia in the 2020 Presidential Election. The bill passed 97-72, along party lines. Republicans said the bill is the method by which reforms can be made to the voting process in Georgia.
“House Bill 531 is designed to begin to bring back the confidence of our voters back into our elections system,” said State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, the bill’s primary sponsor.
House Bill 531 limits the number of absentee drop boxes in each county and requires them to be kept indoors – and only accessible during business hours. It would also end absentee balloting and ends early voting 11 days prior to Election Day. Plus, it would do away with Georgia’s controversial signature match requirement.
Also in the bill, voters must include their Georgia Driver’s License or ID number, or a photocopy of another government-issued document in order to request an absentee ballot.
The bill now heads to the state Senate, where a special committee voted Monday to end no-excuse absentee voting, which would require most voters to cast ballots in person. That legislation could receive a vote in the full Senate within days.
Democrats have said the bill and others floating around in the Legislature are acute forms of voter suppression. They voted in a bloc, to oppose the bill.
HB 531 also reduces the window for Georgians to request an absentee ballot from 180 days prior to the election to 78, and the deadline to submit an application is 11 days before Election Day.
Early voting would still begin about three weeks before Election Day, but the hours would be set by the state would be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Registrars, at their prerogative, could extend early voting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bill also limits weekend voting to just the second Saturday before the election and then either the third Saturday or third Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“It takes away the ability to have uniformity in every county,” said State Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, and Dean of the Georgia House. “For example, if a county chooses the first Sunday, the situation will be extremely confusing for county residents with voting closed on that Saturday. An avalanche of misinformation will follow regarding when voting happens on weekends. Confusion deters voting, which brings about voter suppression.”
Additionally, HB 531 would do away with provisional ballots. Currently, anyone who shows up at the wrong precinct on Election Day can ask to cast a provisional ballot if there are any discrepancies with registration or the current signature match rules.
“We have a problem in this state. We cannot continue to ignore the elephant in the room, that is in the workplace, it’s in the voting place, it’s in housing, and we are no longer going to stand for these racist actions that have been perpetrated by the Republicans,” said State Representative Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta. “Now you’re trying to strip our vote? There’s no way we can continue to stand here and let that happen. This is the beginning of what’s to come. You will not oppress and suppress our vote.”
Democrats say this has been in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For perspective, 1.3 million absentee ballots were requested in the 2020 General Election, five times more than the 2016 General Election. Ironically, about two-thirds of eligible voters that voted-by-mail voted for Biden.
“Our goal in this bill is to make sure that Georgia’s election results get back quickly and accurately,” said Fleming. “The way we begin to restore confidence in our voting system is bypassing this bill. There are many commonsense measures improving elections in this bill.”
According to the bill, Georgia counties would be required to have at least one absentee ballot dropbox, but cannot have more than one box per 100,000 active registered voters or the number of advance voting locations in the county, whichever is less.
“On more than one occasion, I stated that voting is a precious right,” Smyre said. “Many sacrifices have been made and many have died for the privilege to vote.”