Intense debate continues over voting law proposal in Georgia

Intense debate continues over voting law proposal in Georgia
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 06: The Georgia State Capitol is seen on January 06, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images) (Michael M Santiago/GettyImages/Getty Images)

Debate continues over the controversial proposed legislation that would limit, change and add oversight to Georgia’s voting process.

House Bill 531 would limit absentee and early voting opportunities, add more ID requirements to mail-in voting and potentially give the state more oversight in the county-led elections process.

Several changes have recently been made to the bill that extends certification time and adds language about parties’ responsibility to properly train poll watchers. That was a concern expressed last week by a court-mandated monitor to Fulton County’s November and January elections.

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The controversial and wide-ranging GOP-led proposal has been criticized for being formulated after the party sustained presidential and Senate seat losses amid voter fraud misinformation pushed by former President Donald Trump.

Dozens of opponents and supporters continued testimony on Monday.

“There is no voter fraud problem in Georgia that justifies HB 531,” said Elizabeth Tanis, an attorney for the voting rights group, Fair Fight Action.

The ACLU’s political director, Chris Bruce, argued against felony penalties for provisional votes cast outside of assigned precincts and called proposed cuts to early voting days “deeply harmful and unjustified.” He noted the proposed removal of Sunday voting and one of two Saturday options.

“More than half of the 5 million votes in the general election were cast early,” said Bruce.

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“We should recognize the fact that early voting is the preferred method for Georgia voters and expand early voting access to establish minimum standards for the number of early voting locations in a given jurisdiction in accordance to best practices.”

A Houston County military spouse weighed in as a proponent for measures that would further ensure ID checks at the polls, claiming she and family members were not required to show a Georgia IDs when they returned to the state last summer — registered and voted.

“While Georgia has a residency requirement, proof does not have to be shown, kind of making it words with no meaning, " Sylvia Lewis said via Zoom. “I think it’s a dangerous loophole that takes power away from the people who actually live in Georgia.”

Rev. James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP, argued the access to alternate forms of voter ID can still present problems for people without driver’s licenses. Woodall referenced litigation in which the organization cited issues with a registrar issuing unique voter ID information that was not properly put into the Department of Drivers Services system to verify voters.

“Even if this person has a unique identification number, the information that is placed on the absentee ballot in this legislation could very well be different than what is in the actual ENet system,” Woodall said.

He went on to liken pursuing ID at DDS to a poll tax.

“The Georgia General Assembly is currently considering a bill that increases the amount that it would cost to obtain a driver’s license, which again in a state where the minimum wage is $5.25, would discriminately impact Black and poor Georgians throughout this process,” Woodall said.

Joel Natt, a Republican member of the Forsyth County elections board shot back at Woodall, paralleling the voting process to obtaining food stamps.

“With all due respect to the president of the NAACP, anybody that needs to get SNAP has to produce ID to qualify for SNAP,” Natt said.” So you have to have an ID for everything. Everything. Including food stamps, Mr. Chairman.”

Brad Carver, a Republican attorney who recently spearheaded a GOP election confidence task, said he was for keeping some Sunday early voting options in place but went on to describe the fallout after many GOP voters subscribed to conspiracies debunked by the state about recent election integrity.

“One of the things that we say over and over again that at the end of the day is that people need to feel like we have a fair, a transparent system where every legal vote counts and that folks feel safe and that everyone is able to participate,” Carver said.

Carver pushed for an end to no-excuse absentee ballot voting — noting the New York state model of mail-in voting that requires one of eight approved reasons to receive an absentee ballot. He also said the proposed legislation should address outdated voter rolls, claiming two dead metro Atlanta leaders are on the rolls years later. Carver later said he had no evidence that a ballot was cast in their names.

Hearings on HB531 continue Tuesday afternoon.

Lawmakers take up more bills that could impact the way you vote if passed