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House Republicans Pass Sweeping Changes To Georgia Voting Laws

Republican Rep. Barry Fleming is the author of House Bill 531, which would change the way Georgians vote by mail, vote early and vote on Election Day.
Republican Rep. Barry Fleming is the author of House Bill 531, which would change the way Georgians vote by mail, vote early and vote on Election Day.
Credit Emil Moffatt / WABE
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A bill that would overhaul many of the ways Georgians vote has passed the state House of Representatives along party lines.

House Bill 531, sponsored by Republican Rep. Barry Fleming, adds additional ID requirements for absentee ballots and places limitations on the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. It also bans private funding of election operations, restricts the use of private venues as polling sites except in the case of an emergency and reduces early and weekend voting.

“House Bill 531 is designed to begin to bring back the confidence of our voters back into our election system. A main component of that effort is by enacting several revisions, which will make the administration of elections easier by our local elections officials,” said Fleming.

The bill would also reduce the time between the general election and runoffs and would eliminate free-for-all primaries like the one for the U.S. Senate race last year that featured more than 20 candidates. It also lets legislators pick the chair of the State Election Board, a position currently held by the secretary of state.

“This bill separates that legislative function from the officer who will be required to carry out the executive function of making sure those laws and those rules are followed,” said Fleming.

The bill also attempts to institute several measures that are already in place such as poll worker training, special security paper for ballots and public notices for testing of election equipment.

Recent surveys found a sharp drop in confidence in the election only among Republicans following a disinformation campaign about the November election spawned by former President Donald Trump and perpetuated by many GOP members of the Georgia General Assembly.

Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre spoke in opposition to House Bill 531, saying it reduced access to early voting. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)
Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre spoke in opposition to House Bill 531, saying it reduced access to early voting. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

The speaker pro tem, Republican Jan Jones, dismisses claims that the election laws are only being changed because of Republican losses in the last election cycle.

“It’s time again because of the lessons we learned from the implementation of the new voting system and an unprecedented pandemic that revealed extreme stresses in our elections system, such as the need for greater transparency, uniformity and confidence,” said Jones.

Jones says she supports the banning of mobile voting units like the ones that were used in Fulton County during early voting last year. She claims there was little public notice given, even though the county Board of Commissioners approved mobile voting locations several weeks in advance and Fulton County also held a press conference to announce the units would be used.

Demonstrators chanted and displayed signs outside the Georgia Capitol, opposing House Bill 531. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)
Demonstrators chanted and displayed signs outside the Georgia Capitol, opposing House Bill 531. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Democratic Rep. Jasmine Clark said not only will the changes made by the bill harm minority voters, it will also affect Republican voters.

“This bill is cutting off your nose to spite your face,” said Clark. “Instead of reducing, restricting and limiting our elections, we should be in this chamber working to make voting more accessible. A ‘yes’ vote on this bill will come back to bite you.”

“On more than one occasion, I stated that voting is a precious right,” said Democratic Rep. Calvin Smyre, dean of the Georgia House. “Many sacrifices have been made and many have died for the privilege to vote.”

The bill heads to the state Senate where a separate omnibus bill has also been proposed.