Georgia lawmakers on Thursday gave final approval to legislation to impose sweeping new voting access restrictions in the state that make voting by mail more difficult and give the state legislature more power over elections.
The measure was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, on Thursday night. “Significant reforms were needed in our state elections. There is no doubt that there were many alarming problems with how the election was handled, and those problems, understandably, led to a crisis of confidence, ”Kemp said during remarks prepared shortly after the bill was signed.
Requires voters to submit identifying information with an absentee ballot application and the ballot itself. It limits the use of absentee ballot boxes, allows unlimited challenges to voter qualifications, reduces the runoff period from nine to four weeks, and significantly reduces the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
The legislation also empowers the state legislature, currently dominated by Republicans, to appoint a majority of members to the five-person state electoral board. That provision would strip Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who took on Trump after the election, of his current role as chairman of the board. The bill creates a mechanism for the junta to strip local electoral boards of their power.
Gloria Butler, a Democratic state senator, said the bill would make voting difficult, especially for poor and disabled people. “We are witnessing a massive and brazen assault on voting rights, unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era,” he said just before the bill was passed.
“This bill is absolutely about opportunity, but it is not about voting opportunities. It’s about the opportunity to maintain control and maintain power at any cost, ”Jen Jordan, a Democratic state senator, said Thursday.
The legislation comes after Georgia recorded record turnout in the November elections and the January elections in the United States Senate, including surges among black and other minority voters. It has become the center of national attention because many see it as the crystallization of a national push by Republicans to make it difficult to vote. Alluding to a measure in Georgia’s bill that bans the provision of food or water to people standing in line to vote, Joe Biden called that national effort “sick” during a news conference Thursday. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” he said.
Faced with opposition from the state’s top Republicans, Republicans stopped pushing to demand that voters provide an excuse to vote by mail. And amid national outcry, in recent weeks they have backed away from proposals to ban early voting on Sundays, a day that black voters have traditionally used in disproportionate numbers to cast their votes. The measure that passed Thursday actually extends weekend early voting in the state, requiring an additional Saturday and authorizing counties to offer it on two Sundays if they choose.
Republicans took advantage of that provision in the bill on Thursday to claim they were actually expanding voter access in Georgia. “The bill greatly expands voter accessibility in Georgia and greatly improves the election administration process while providing more accountability to ensure the vote is properly conserved,” Barry Fleming, a Republican state representative who spearheaded the legislation, he said Thursday.
They offered little substantive justification for why the measure was necessary after an election in which there was record turnout and in which multiple accounts in the presidential race found no evidence of fraud. Instead, they said the bill was necessary to preserve the trust of voters.
The nearly 100-page measure was formally unveiled last week, when it was abruptly inserted into another two-page bill. While the legislation includes several of the measures that legislators debated, it did include some new ideas that had not been fully debated. Democrats and voting activists have accused Republicans of trying to pass a bill without fully examining it.
Democrats and voting rights groups are expected to quickly file a series of lawsuits challenging the measure.