On Monday, March 8, the Georgia state Senate passed an election “reform” bill making it harder for the state’s citizens to cast absentee ballots and ushering in a number of other sweeping—and alarming—changes within the critical swing state. Georgia has been on the frontlines of the nation’s political scene ever since it turned blue for the first time in 28 years last November and helped Joe Biden become the 46th President of the United States.
“The legislation, which has been championed by state Republican lawmakers, passed in 29-20,” reported Kelly Mena of CNN. “It now heads to the Georgia House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass in the coming weeks.”
According to Mena, “Under SB 241, voters would need to be 65 years old or older, absent from their precinct, observing a religious holiday, be required to provide constant care for someone with a physical disability, or required to work ‘for the protection of the health, life, or safety of the public during the entire time the polls are open,’ or be an overseas or military voter to qualify for an absentee ballot.”
The bill is set to reverse a law allowing no-excuse absentee voting that was originally backed by Republicans when it first passed in 2005. Since then, however, as primarily young and Black voters have turned out in election after election in record numbers supporting the Democratic party, voting rights groups say Republicans in the state are now doing everything they can to dial back that revolution and stamp out access to the voting booth.
“They (Republicans) passed this law. They didn’t use it. The Democrats did. The GOP lost. And because of that, now, they want to change the laws back,” Democratic Caucus Chair, Sen. Gloria Butler said in an interview with CNN.
“This blatantly unconstitutional legislation will not go unchallenged,” added Lauren Groh-Wargo in a statement released following the vote. Groh-Wargo is the CEO of Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.
“It’s time for leaders across Georgia to step up and oppose this dangerous bill before it goes any further,” Groh-Wargo said. “We will continue to fight in Georgia, in the courts, and in Congress to make sure that Georgians’ voting rights are not infringed.”
For their part, Georgia state Republicans claim the move is simply geared toward reducing the cost of counting ballots and relieving stress on local election workings, and that they have no intention of trying to disenfranchise voters.
The truth of that statement rings hollow, however. As CNN’s Mena pointed out, the move from Senate Republicans in Georgia is just part of a vast campaign from Republicans across the nation to make it harder for people — and especially people of color — to continue voting in record numbers in future elections.
“Around the country, Republican-controlled state legislatures are relying on election falsehoods to mount aggressive changes to voting rules,” Mena reported. “As of February 19, lawmakers in more than 40 states had introduced more than 250 bills that included voting restrictions, according to a tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which is tracking the bills.”
The U.S. House of Representatives is doing what it can to fight the problem through HR 1 or the “For the People Act” — a sweeping bill passed in early March that is aimed at protecting voter rights. President Biden also recently signed an executive order expanding voting access and promoting voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act. But with an evenly split Senate and not enough votes to successfully pass controversial policies without threat of a filibuster, how much effect these actions can have on people’s ability to vote in Georgia and across the U.S. remains to be seen.