Republicans in the Georgia legislature have passed a sweeping elections law that would add an ID requirement to absentee ballots, shorten runoffs in the state after two high-profile Republican losses and strip the secretary of state off of the state election board.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed it shortly after it passed out of the legislature on Thursday. “Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair,” Kemp said Thursday, shortly after signing the bill into law.
Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers of the state legislature, railed against the bill and promised immediate lawsuits.
The battle over voter access has been under an intense spotlight in Georgia. After his loss in the state in 2020, former President Donald Trump spread conspiracy theories about the election. Republican supporters of the former president latched on to his claims and sought to change election laws in Georgia and elsewhere in the name of election security, but the bills often would result in making it harder to vote.
Republican lawmakers in Georgia proposed some additional measures that would have drastically reduced access to the polls, which included rolling back no-excuse absentee voting and restricting Sunday voting, which is popular among Black voters during “Souls to the Polls” events. Neither of those measures were ultimately included in the package set for Kemp’s desk.
Georgia is the latest state to pass a sweeping elections package. In Iowa, Republicans passed a law that tightens the receipt window for absentee ballots, cuts the early in-person voting period from 29 days down to 20 and shaves off an hour of in-person voting on Election Day. Gov. Kim Reynolds signed that into law earlier this month.
Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state Democratic Party, called the law “flagrantly racist” and a “a slap in the face to Georgia’s civil rights legacy.” The governor “and the GOP are now trying to outright silence Georgia voters by making it harder to cast a ballot and letting partisan actors take over local elections,” she said in a statement.
Though Republicans considered ending Sunday voting, the Georgia law does, however, ultimately expand in-person weekend voting. The law requires two days of Saturday early voting and gives the option of two Sunday voting days. Many smaller counties in the state do not currently offer that much in the way of weekend voting.
The law also adds an ID requirement to the process for requesting an absentee ballot, after previously only requiring voters to sign an application. It also narrows the time window during which ballots can be requested.
It also restricts the use of drop boxes in the state, mandating that each county have at least one drop box but then limiting any additional drop box totaling the “lesser of either one drop box for every 100,000 active registered voters in the county or the number of advance voting locations in the county.” The law also requires that the drop boxes be located either at the office of the board of registrars or ballot clerk or inside early voting locations — and that they are closed when early voting isn’t being conducted.
It also bans the practice of “line warming,” which is providing people in voting lines food or drinks. During the Georgia primaries, voters waited in lines for many hours in some parts of the state, especially in and around Atlanta. Those lines were largely not replicated for the general election. There can still be “self-service water from an unattended receptacle” available to voters waiting in line.
Democrats and voting rights advocates have been deeply critical of the bill, saying that it restricts voters’ access to the polls and puts power over the elections into the hands of the legislature.
Kemp’s remarks after the bill signing were disrupted as a number of protesters gathered outside his office, including Democratic state Reps. Park Cannon and Erica Thomas. “What’s the problem?” he asked, shortly before a livestream of the event ended.
Videos posted on social media showed police officers arresting Cannon after she knocked on the door to Kemp’s office, because she wanted to witness the signing of the bill, a protester said. As officers escorted Cannon away, protesters demanded that the officers cite the reason for her arrest.
“You arrested a sitting state representative for nothing,” Thomas shouted at the officers. “She didn’t do anything but knock on the governor’s door. I’m done. I’m so done.”
The law “hurts voters of color, increases taxes on struggling families & steals power from local governments,” former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams tweeted earlier in the day.
Marc Elias, a prominent Democratic attorney who led many of the election-related lawsuits in 2020, promised a lawsuit challenging the law.
“Tonight, you know, we are filing a lawsuit, on behalf of the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter, and Rise, a student organization, because we know that these laws are all aimed at disenfranchising black voters and also young voters,” Elias said Thursday evening on MSNBC.
Republicans defended the law under the banner of “election integrity.” A preamble to the law says that “many electors [are] concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud” — despite no evidence of that taking place — and voter suppression.
The bill also targets the power of the secretary of state and local elections boards. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, was targeted by Trump and many Republicans in the state because he did not support Trump’s election fraud claims.
The law removes the secretary of state as the chair of the state election board, making the position instead elected by the state General Assembly. This, effectively, turns the five-person board over to the state legislature, with the chair elected by both chambers and one member each appointed by each chamber. The law also gives the state election board the ability to suspend county election officials, who are replaced by an individual picked by the board.
Raffensperger is facing a primary challenge from Trump-endorsed Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.), who has boosted the former president’s false narrative about the 2020 election.
The law also shortens the runoff period in the state, after Republicans suffered a pair of high-profile losses earlier this year. Then-Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler both finished ahead of their Democratic challengers in November, but now-Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won the runoffs in January.
The law shortens the runoff period from nine weeks to four weeks. That would shorten the early voting period in the state and give voters less time to mail their ballots back. It would also end all-party primaries for special elections.
By ZACH MONTELLARO, Politico.
Benjamin Din and Nick Niedzwiadek contributed to this report.