Ga. House OKs bill packed with voting restrictions to opponents’ dismay

Republican Rep. Barry Fleming’s controversial voting bill that proposes changes to absentee and early voting advanced through the House Monday after hours of debate. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia House Republicans pushed through broad election legislation Monday that would limit early voting and require an ID to vote absentee, with Democrats and voting rights groups protesting it would disproportionately affect people of color.

The legislation passed largely along party lines with a 97-to-72 vote and is now headed to the state Senate, which is also considering a bill packed with new restrictions on absentee voting.

Republicans say proposed uniform statewide voting standards will help restore confidence in the system after many of them suggested earlier that widespread irregularities plagued Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.

Democrats and voting rights organizations say Rep. Barry Fleming’s legislation will make voting less convenient. Changes would include options popular in November, including fewer early voting chances, limits on absentee ballot drop boxes and a new ID requirement to vote by mail.

“This bill usurps local control and dictates to counties exactly how they must run their own elections,” said Rep. Renitta Shannon, a Decatur Democrat. “Worst of all, (the bill) decimates the convenience currently built into absentee voting and early voting.

“Black and brown workers are vastly overrepresented in hourly jobs that do not allow for schedule flexibility,” Shannon added. “Vote by mail, weekend voting and extended voting hours give workers the ability to be able to work when you have to work and vote on your own when your schedule permits.”

Republican lawmakers in other states are filing similar legislation to restrict voting access, but Georgia is attracting more than its share of national attention following former President Donald Trump’s attacks on top state leaders who confirmed his election loss. Fellow Republican Brad Raffensperger said after recounts and an audit he could find no evidence of election fraud and 2020 was the most secure election in state history.

Fleming, a Harlem Republican, said his legislation will ensure state voting laws are closely aligned throughout Georgia’s 159 counties. 

Requiring a voter to prove their identity when voting absentee is more secure than using the state’s subjective signature verification that relies on county poll workers to make comparisons, he said.

Fleming said Democrats who say absentee voting ID requirements and limits on drop box locations are attempts to stifle turnout are engaging in partisan politics.

“It’s better to use the word voter suppression over and over again because somehow that gets a big turnout,” he said. “Now that may get a big turnout in elections, but it harms the state of Georgia and the people who live here. Because if you continue to say over and over again something that’s not true, it does have a negative effect.”

Republican lawmakers said they are overwhelmed by calls and emails from constituents who ask if their vote counts. Many Georgia Republican lawmakers cast doubts about Georgia’s election system after President Joe Biden narrowly defeated Trump by about 12,000 votes.

A record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee in the general election after the State Election Board adopted an emergency rule early in the pandemic allowing counties to set up drop boxes that were always available if kept under video surveillance. 

Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Lilburn Democrat, said the restrictions will hurt legitimate voter participation.

“This bill is cutting off your nose to spite your face,” she said. “Instead of reducing, restricting and limiting our elections, we should be in this chamber working to make voting more accessible.”

Rep. Shaw Blackmon, a Bonaire Republican, said it’s the legislators’ responsibility to satisfy Georgians who still question the voting system. 

“I’ve spoken with a number of friends and constituents, and I’ve heard repeatedly that they understand their candidate doesn’t always win,” he said. “But they do want to know that the person with the most legally and legitimately cast votes is the winner.”

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.