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Democrats won Georgia for the first time in a generation last election—and Republicans want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
The GOP-controlled Georgia Legislature moved to pass a pair of bills on Monday to make it significantly harder for people to register to vote and cast their ballots. The two pieces of legislation lay out a smorgasbord of new voting restrictions in the state that would make it much harder to vote.
The legislation came in response to Republicans losing the presidential election in the state—then promptly losing a pair of Senate seats—in 2020. President Biden narrowly won Georgia last November, but former President Trump howled that the election was rigged against him. While Georgia GOP officials refused to do his bidding to toss out the 2020 results, they’re more than happy to try to use those attacks on the legitimacy of the election to make sure they can hold onto power going forward.
Republicans used the fact that their own voters believe the lie that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election as a reason to pass the restrictive new measures.
“Everybody has the right to vote, everybody has the right for a transparent secure election that they believe is fair,” Georgia GOP state Sen. Jason Anavitarte said on the Senate floor during the debate. “But if we don’t address the concerns of some voters in this state, we’re never going to get there.”
The Georgia Senate passed the more onerous of the two bills by a 29-20 vote late Monday afternoon. That bill would end no-excuse mail voting that doesn’t require an excuse—like travel or provable medical reasons—for all voters under age 65 and create even stricter voter ID requirements for those who still do.
The House is expected to pass its own bill later in the evening. That bill would make it harder for people to register to vote by ending automatic voter registration for people getting driver’s licenses. That bill also would cut in-person early voting, an option that’s popular with Black voters, and specifically eliminate Sunday early voting, which Black churches have historically used to organize “Souls to the Polls” voting days.
Georgia’s system already made it harder for Black people to vote than for their white counterparts. Two-thirds of the polling places that had to stay open late because voters were still waiting in line during Georgia’s 2020 primary elections were in Black neighborhoods, according to a ProPublica/Georgia Public Broadcasting investigation.
“These bills are intentionally, horrifically, anti-voter,” Aunna Dennis, the Georgia president of the good-government group Common Cause, said in a statement. “When the 2022 election comes around, we won’t be able to vote in the ways we have used for the past 15 years—and it will be perfectly clear who’s responsible for rolling back the hands of time and returning Georgia to the Jim Crow era status quo of voter suppression.”
The bevy of voting changes is clearly aimed at hurting Democrats’ chances of winning future elections in the fast-changing state, where rapid growth and political shifts in Atlanta’s suburbs and fast-growing populations of Black, Asian and Hispanic voters have made it suddenly competitive.
It’s notable that Senate Republicans excepted senior citizens from their planned ban on no-excuse mail voting, as old people are significantly likelier to vote Republican.
“The purpose of 241 [the Senate bill] and all of the vote-limiting bills we have before us is to validate a lie,” said Democratic state Sen. Nikki Merritt. “It is to prevent massive voter turnout from happening again, especially in minority communities.”
The bills are part of a sweeping national push by Republican state lawmakers to make it harder to vote in the next election. Republicans have introduced at least 250 separate bills in 43 states to make it harder to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The bills both got a vote on Monday because it was “crossover day” in Georgia—the day before a deadline that any bill not passed by at least one house of the state legislature would have to wait a year before becoming law.
Taken together, the bills could cause significantly longer lines for Black, young, and urban Georgia voters. That could depress Democratic turnout in the state, while disenfranchising people without identification, who tend to be poorer than the overall population.
“The motivations are really suspect, because it's introduced immediately after voters of color dramatically increased their use of absentee voting this past year,” said Georgia Democratic state Sen. Jennifer Jordan. “There's been no evidence that our elections aren't secure. There's been no evidence that any of these things are fixes that are actually needed.”
It’s unclear if Republicans will end up eliminating no-excuse mail voting in the state, or just make other changes that make it harder to vote. House and Senate Republicans in the state will now need to agree on exactly how they want to move toward a more restrictive voting environment. But it’s clear they’ll make some changes to try to rig the state’s voting rules to make it easier for them to hold onto power. And it marks a dramatic escalation in a decade-long fight over voting rights in Georgia.
The GOP broadside against voting access comes in the wake of a propaganda campaign from Trump and other Republicans to paint the 2020 election as rife with voter fraud, even though three separate recounts in Georgia showed that Biden fairly won the state by just under 12,000 votes in November.
Enough Republicans stood up and refused to follow Trump’s demands that they try to overturn the state’s election results to avoid a full-blown constitutional crisis, and Trump’s claims may have hurt GOP turnout in the January 2021 Senate runoffs, when Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won a pair of hotly contested races.
But plenty of the same GOP officials who refused to embrace Trump’s soft coup attempt—including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—have indicated they’ll support new voting restrictions that would benefit their own reelection chances.
“What I have seen and what I have been told by my Republican colleagues, is that this is about people's feelings. Some people feel that our elections are not secure. Many people feel there was fraud and they need to be reassured. But I bet none of you can get up here today argue that there was widespread fraud in the last election,” Georgia State Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat, said during the debate.
A handful of Republican lawmakers stood up against the draconian measures. Four GOP state senators didn’t vote for the bill, and Republican Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan refused to preside over the Senate bill’s debate because of his objection to its contents, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But Republicans have a 34-22 majority in the state Senate and a 103-76 majority in the state House even though the state’s voters were closely divided in recent elections, because GOP gerrymanders drawn a decade ago have ensured Republican control of the chambers.