Georgia Legislature Passes Bill Curbing Ballot Access

ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 08: Demonstrators hold a “sit in” inside of the Capitol building in opposition of House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. HB531 will restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes, and require the use of a government ID when voting by mail.  (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 08: Demonstrators protest inside of the Capitol building in opposition of House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. HB531 will restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes, and requir... ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 08: Demonstrators protest inside of the Capitol building in opposition of House Bill 531 on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. HB531 will restrict early voting hours, remove drop boxes, and require the use of a government ID when voting by mail. (Photo by Megan Varner/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 25, 2021 1:53 p.m.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the Georgia Senate passing the elections bill approved earlier Thursday by Georgia’s House.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature has passed a sweeping overhaul of the state’s election rules.

The closely watched legislation in the highly  competitive state heightens ID requirements for absentee voting, limits drop box use and prohibits the distribution of food and most beverages to voters while they’re waiting in line.

The bill now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who reportedly will be signing the legislation later Thursday evening.

Kemp, along with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), faced scorn from President Trump and his allies for their refusal to disturb Trump’s 2020 defeat in the state. Trump’s lies about there being mass voter fraud in Georgia and elsewhere have propelled proposals in statehouses across the country that would make it harder to vote.

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The bill passed by the House on Thursday targets Raffensperger in particular, by demoting him from chair of the state board of elections to a non-voting member, and letting the legislature choose the state board’s chair instead. The bill additionally gives the state board new authorities to dismantle and replace local election entities.

 The legislation also creates  new ID requirements for mail voting. In lieu of the current signature match system, absentee voters — both when applying to vote by mail and submitting the ballot itself — would be required to provide either a photo copy of their ID or certain types of ID numbers.

Election officials will face more restrictions on where they can place drop boxes and what hours those receptacles can be accessed, under the bill. The legislation shortens the absentee voting period and also limits when in-person voters can have their votes counted if they show up at the wrong polling place.

Additionally, the practice known as “line warming” — when outside groups or individuals give in-person voters waiting in line food or beverages — would be mostly prohibited; the only exception the bill gives is for self-service water containers.

The legislation passed out of both the Georgia House and the Senate on Thursday, as the legislature nears the end of its session next week.

Republicans have backed off of some of their most extreme proposals, including a Senate-approved measure that would end no-excuse voting as well as a proposal to end Sunday in-person voting in the state. In some parts of Georgia, the opportunities for in-person voting would be expanded under the bill passed Thursday, including with its requirement for two Saturday voting periods. However, other counties — and particularly metro areas — will likely have to scale back their voting opportunities to meet the mandates of the bill.

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