Republicans on the committee argued that the bill, which addresses multiple areas of electoral law, would help restore confidence in the elections in Georgia, but Democrats and proponents of voting rights blew it up as a “billed voter suppression” bill Questioned the motive behind the rush to bring it to the committee just hours after its inception.
“This bill seems to offer solutions to many problems that don’t exist. It’s supposed to be supposed to improve security and integrity, but … a lot of those provisions don’t,” said Saira Draper, director for the protection of Democrats Georgia Party said in an interview. “It restricts all of our voting options in Georgia … but the brunt of the impact is mainly being felt by our black and brown voters.”
During the Thursday and Friday hearings, Republicans defended Law HB 531 as vital in restoring public confidence in elections and strengthening security. According to a poll in January, close to 40% of Georgian voters believe that widespread fraud occurred in the last presidential election. 75% of the Republicans alone.
Voters register with poll workers at a polling station for the 2020 presidential election in Atlanta on November 3, 2020.
“We are doing the best we can to ensure that our vote is secure and that someone’s vote cannot be stolen,” said Republican MP Barry Fleming, chairman of the Special Committee on Electoral Integrity, on Friday. “Our due diligence in this legislature [is] To keep updating our laws in an attempt to protect the sanctity of voting. The reason people don’t rob banks every day is because banks take precautions to prevent it from happening. “
According to the impartial Brennan Center for Justice, at least 165 bills across the country that would restrict access to voting rights are under review as of early February. The legal and political organization claims these bills are “an unmistakable response to the unfounded and dangerous lies about fraud following the 2020 elections”.
These false fraud allegations were led by former President Donald Trump and were disproportionately directed against battlefield states he had lost, including Georgia.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly stated that while there are individual cases of fraud in every election, there were no widespread or systematic cases of fraud in November.
Amber McReynolds, an election administration expert and CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, told ABC News that the Georgia elections are more accessible than many other states, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect.
“There are ways to improve what they have done to improve the voter process, reduce costs and improve efficiency, and improve security – and there is a way to do all of those things at the same time do it, “she said. “Sometimes the legislation doesn’t look at things broadly and this is an example of that.”
McReynolds, an unaffiliated voter, met with Republicans in the General Assembly as they draft electoral laws and testified on HB 531 Friday.
While there are parts of the bill that have been praised by electoral administrators, the sections dealing with early personal and postal voting by email have been pushed back significantly by supporters.
A polling officer hands out pens and clipboards to fill out registration cards while people line up to vote at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds in Lawrenceville, Ga. On October 30, 2020.
Legislation would prevent counties from voting on the two Sundays that fall in the early three weeks and only allow it to do so on a Saturday. Currently, the districts must have locations that are open on weekdays and on Saturdays. However, you can add more days if they fall within the specified period, which ends on the Friday before an election.
Fleming said this would bring “uniformity” to the early voting.
“Uniformity is not justice,” said Draper. “Fulton County has different needs … than small, rural counties with a small number of voters, so originally this law was flexible.”
She noted that “Souls to the Polls” events held by black churches in the major subway areas were “an effective voting mechanism,” but eliminating the early voting on Sunday would also limit that.
During the 2020 cycle, the State Election Board passed an emergency rule that allows counties to introduce Dropboxing. While this bill would be the first to actively sanction dropboxes, it would also limit their future use and require early approval locations and only accessible when those locations are open.
Richmond County’s polling officer Lynn Bailey testified Friday that if the dropboxes need to be in these locations, at least they should be outside so they’re more accessible. Cobb County’s election officer Janine Eveler agreed with her testimony.
McReynolds said voters across the political spectrum like dropboxes and warn against restricting their accessibility.
“A lot of people prefer to hand their ballot directly to a Dropbox or an election judge because it gets there faster,” she said. “There are ways to improve security … but just limiting access to the boxes doesn’t really improve security. It actually hurts.”
Under this law, voters would not be able to use Dropboxes on election day or in the three days before. However, registering ballot papers during this time is risky as they must be received by 7 p.m. on election day. In Georgia, the largest percentage of postal ballot papers rejected are those that arrive late.
An election observer assists a voter as she drops a postal ballot into a dropbox outside a polling station for the 2020 presidential election in Atlanta on November 3, 2020.
The bill would also add a new postal voting identification requirement and eliminate the signature match process.
Voters are currently required to provide photo ID when voting in person, but not by post. HB 531 would require absentee voters to include their driver’s license or state identification number on their applications and on the oath envelopes containing the ballot. If a voter does not have this type of identification, they must attach a photocopy of another form of accepted identification to the application.
According to Fleming, 97% of Georgia voters have a driver’s license or state ID, though it’s unclear where that number came from.
But even if only 3% of voters are missing, additional hurdles are important to a small number of voters, “if we really want everyone to vote,” said Poy Winichakul, an attorney who works on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund.
“They propose these requirements when they are not required,” added Winichakul, speaking directly to the chairman. “There is no evidence of widespread electoral fraud.”
But Ryan Germany, the general counsel in Raffensperger’s office, said that unless the state shifts from a subjective to an objective method of verifying postal votes, election officials could become targets, as some did after November.
“They just want to be neutral referees,” he said.
According to McReynolds, the electoral law must meet several priorities, including fairness, accessibility, safety, transparency and equality.
“All of these values are equally important,” she said. “It seems we have to work with all of these values in balance to get it right for this particular piece of legislation and all subsequent bills.”
The hearing on Friday ended without a motion on the bill, and another hearing will take place on Monday.