Two Democrats in Douglas County’s state delegation are among the critics of legislation in the General Assembly aimed at changing how elections are run in the state.
State Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, heads up the delegation and spoke by phone.
“This is voter suppression in 2021 ... these bills are strictly suppression because they didn’t like the outcome of the presidential race or the outcome for the Senate seats, so now they want to change the rules,” Bruce said. “All of the laws that they’re talking about changing are laws that Republicans put in place. Now that the other side has figured out how to use those laws and win, they want to change the rules and that’s really all it boils down to.”
State Rep. Kimberly Alexander, D-Douglasville said, “The minute the state flips and it turns blue, all these bills being created are to prevent people from voting. It’s going hurt anybody that can’t get to the polls on the weekend,” she said.
Alexander said both Democrats and Republicans need to be making the process easier for voters — not harder.
“It’s very concerning. I want to make sure that our voters have access — I don’t think we should be taking away the access and I don’t care if you’re African American or Caucasian, Democrat or Republican; I think we should have it open to vote as long as they are a citizen and they have the identification that’s required to vote, I think we should be making it more accessible for those individuals to vote,” Alexander said.
The battle over voting rights in Georgia appears headed for a showdown this week as the 2021 session winds down.
Two of the most contentious proposals — limiting weekend voting options and ending the no-excuse absentee law — no longer appear to be on the table with the session scheduled to wrap up on March 31.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican whose district includes part of Douglas County, said he’s focusing on helping steer whichever set of proposals most lawmakers in the General Assembly want to see cross the finish line later this month, whether they come from Fleming’s bill or his own.
“My concern is really not the politics of it,” Dugan said. “My concern is actually having something that is beneficial for the state moving forward.”
GOP Rep. Barry Fleming’s Special Committee on Election Integrity was scheduled to consider Monday a new version of Senate Bill 202 that expands weekend early voting opportunities from one mandatory Saturday to two Saturdays and two optional Sundays.
Another modified proposal would allow absentee ballot drop boxes to be placed outside early voting locations during a public health emergency, but still require them to be kept inside absent a crisis.
A record 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee in the Nov. 3 election.
The Senate Ethics Committee was also expected to vote this week on Fleming’s 80-plus page bill. He said it will create election uniformity across Georgia’s 159 counties, which he said is needed to reassure voters the state’s elections are fair.
“If you’re trying to instill confidence in the election system, then you want the public to perceive that the election system is similar if not the same as much as it can be in those places,” Fleming said.
Lawmakers who support these measures are ignoring their impact on minorities and the evidence confirming the security of the election system, said Pichaya Poy Winichakul, an attorney for the SPLC Action Fund.
“(These bills) will erode their confidence in Georgia’s election system because it stands to roll back their voting rights,” she said.
Voting rights groups continue questioning the push to require an ID to vote by mail.
It’s a provision that stands a good chance of becoming law because of the support from top Republican officials who back a more objective way of verifying the voter’s identity than matching signatures on file with ones written on absentee ballot mailings.
Opposition to the ID requirement to vote absentee remains among some activists, with some saying it’s a hardship on hundreds of thousands of Georgians who don’t have a state-issued ID. But a voter ID card available to Georgians at no cost, said Carolyn Garcia, a lobbyist with the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“The idea of saying that having a photo ID is suppressing the vote, I don’t see the reasoning, or the argument in it when it’s easy to obtain one,” she said.
Public uproar over voting bills reached new peaks last week, as did demands for the business community to use its political muscle to halt efforts by state lawmakers to impose voting restrictions.
“Like many in our community, our interest in these issues began long ago and reflects our collective belief that every eligible Georgia voter — regardless of background or political views — should engage in the voting process,” Metro Atlanta Chamber President Katie Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “We will continue to use our voices to keep accessibility, convenience and security at the center of any discussions about changes to our election process.”
Potential of legal challenges loom if sweeping voting changes are approved and federal legislation that could override any new state voting laws, said Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia.
“This allows Republicans to go back to their constituents and say, you know, we heard your concerns,” Bullock said. “Polling numbers that I’ve seen say 75% of Republicans think that there was something amiss in Georgia’s election so they can go to their core constituents and say, ‘Yeah, we passed something to try to address that.’ ”
A report from Georgia Recorder was used in this article.