Georgia Republicans enact sweeping bill to restrict voting

Bill targets surge in absentee voting by Democrats in the state Joe Biden won in the 2020 presidential election.

African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Reginald Jackson announces a boycott of Coca-Cola Co products outside the Georgia Capitol as Georgia legislators vote to approve new voting restrictions likely to disenfranchise Black voters [Jeff Amy/AP Photo]

A bill passed and signed by the governor of Georgia Thursday will revise the US state’s election laws to restrict future absentee voting and give the Republican legislature greater control over the administration of elections.

Democrats and voting rights groups said the legislation, swiftly passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp, would disproportionately disenfranchise Black voters in a state with a history of racial discrimination.

“It is unbelievable that there are still some people trying to stop people from voting today. You are changing the rules, cutting the voting hours, and making it more difficult for people to vote,” said Democratic state Representative Erica Thomas, according to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal.

“Too many people fought, bled and died for our right to vote,” Thomas said.

President Joe Biden, at a news conference in Washington on Thursday called Republican efforts to limit voting access in state legislatures like Georgia’s “sick”, “despicable” and “un-American”.

Republican authors of the 95-page bill said it was intended to increase public confidence in Georgia’s federal elections by requiring photo IDs to vote absentee among other changes to election rules.

“Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair,” Kemp said moments after signing the bill.

“One of the things we looked at was a system that’s broke,” Representative Alan Powell, a Republican, told the Constitution-Journal.

“The Georgia election system was never intended to be able to handle the volume of votes that it handles,” he said.

More than 1.3 million Georgia voters cast absentee ballots by mail during the 2020 election.

The bill passed the House 100-75 and Senate 34-20 on party-line votes with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.

The bill is part of a wave of Republican-drafted election bills introduced by Republicans in state legislatures across the US after former President Donald Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 election loss.

Recounts in Georgia confirmed Joe Biden’s slim 11,000-vote victory in the state. Biden was the first Democratic presidential nominee to win Georgia since 1992.

Runoff elections for two US Senate seats were won in January by Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, delivering Democrats majority control of the Senate.

Former President Donald Trump is under investigation in Georgia for trying to pressure Governor Brian Kemp and other officials to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

The bill will restrict the placement of ballot drop boxes to inside early voting locations, set a deadline for requesting absentee ballots 11 days before an election and prohibit the distribution of food and water to voters waiting in line.

The bill will shift authorities of the elected secretary of state to a new appointee of the legislature after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rebuffed Trump’s attempts to overturn the Georgia results.

Among its more controversial provisions, it will allow state election officials to intervene in local election administration, potentially allowing the Republican legislature to disqualify ballots in Atlanta’s heavily Democratic Fulton County.

Local election administrators appointed by the legislature “could halt certification of results in that county and disenfranchise thousands of Georgians. That would be incredibly destabilizing to our democracy,” Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement on Thursday.

The bill will “disproportionately impact historically disenfranchised groups of votes”, Abudu said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies