Crucial action comes this week. The state’s GOP-controlled General Assembly has only five legislative workdays left on its calendar before it adjourns March 31. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate say they plan to finalize changes to election bills in the days ahead.
An omnibus bill that a key House committee is expected to take up Monday would impose identification requirements for absentee voting, limit the use of ballot drop boxes and disqualify most provisional ballots cast outside of voters’ home precincts. It also would make it a misdemeanor to provide food or soft drinks to voters as they wait in line.
Of particular concern to voting rights activists in the state: Measures that strip authority from the elected secretary of state and grant state officials broad rights, including the ability to replace local elections officials.
“We are facing an emergency,” Hillary Holley, organizing director of Fair Fight Action, told CNN.
Despite last-minute alterations to the package to preserve more weekend early voting, “this bill continues to be nothing but voter suppression,” said Cliff Albright, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. “The recent changes are nothing more than putting a little makeup and cologne on Jim Crow.”
His group plans a rally Monday at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Atlanta to pressure businesses to oppose the package, part of a planned week of action.
Georgia, a battleground state, sits at the forefront of efforts in Republican-controlled legislatures around the country to impose tough, new restrictions on voting. The proposed voting limits in Georgia arrive ahead of high-stakes gubernatorial and US Senate races next year.
A February tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice tracked bills that would restrict voting in 43 states. More states have joined the list since then, with new bills landing recently in North Carolina and Wisconsin.
Republican lawmakers in the state have cast their efforts as needed to shore up a system battered by allegations of fraud. A preamble to the House bill said it was designed “to address the lack of elector confidence in the election system on all sides of the political spectrum” and promote “uniformity in voting.”
Voting rights activists say the measures under consideration would restrict ballot access for wide swaths of Georgia’s increasingly diverse population.
Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, said ID requirements for obtaining absentee ballots, would harm older voters, those who are low-income, and college students because they are all less likely to have driver’s licenses or other forms of required identification, such as passports or a state or federal photo identification card.
The Georgia House bill would require voters to provide their driver’s license numbers or state ID numbers and other identifying information, such as their date of birth, on the ballots.
Georgia Republicans “are saying that voting should be for the 1% and … for the privileged,” Dennis told CNN.
In recent days, lawmakers in Georgia backed down on a provision that critics say would have unfairly targeted Black voters. Republicans now say they plan to preserve Sunday early voting as part of the omnibus voting package that the House committee will take up this week. The change under discussion would specifically allow Georgians to cast ballots on two Sundays during the state’s early voting window. A previous bill sought to allow only one optional day of Sunday voting.
Fleming’s office did not immediately respond to request for comment. At a meeting last month, Fleming said the bills aim to address the “controversy” surrounding recent elections.
Georgia Republican Sen. Max Burns, who chairs the panel handling election bills in the Senate, has crafted a companion bill, the text of which was released Friday afternoon. His committee is scheduled to take it up Monday with a vote coming as early as Tuesday, Burns told CNN.
In a meeting Wednesday, Burns said his version “would address some of the issues and some of the challenges that we have.” He did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend.
Both measures give state lawmakers more authority over elections.
A provision in the House bill boots the elected secretary of state as the chairman of the state elections board. The General Assembly would choose the new chairman, giving lawmakers three out of five board appointments.
The House package also would grant the state elections board the right to suspend both local election superintendents and local boards of election and appoint a new official to step in as a temporary superintendent.
Voting rights activists say that bucks the tradition of local control and could lead to a scenario in which state officials swoop in to prevent a county from certifying its election results.
“Imagine if they had this power in the last election,” Albright said of the new authority the Georgia package contemplates. “It’s the provision that can trump every other one in this bill.”