Fight to vote: This is how Georgia Republicans are attacking democracy

After record turnout in the 2020 election, the state legislature is considering sweeping voting restrictions

Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia capitol building, to oppose the HB531 bill on Wednesday in Atlanta, Georgia.
Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia capitol building, to oppose the HB531 bill on Wednesday in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Megan Varner/Getty Images
Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia capitol building, to oppose the HB531 bill on Wednesday in Atlanta, Georgia. Photograph: Megan Varner/Getty Images
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Last modified on Thu 4 Mar 2021 11.26 EST

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Happy Thursday,

An effort to restrict voting is under way across America, but there are few places where that assault is more clear, and more urgent, than in Georgia. I know we’ve talked about Georgia before, but this week, I want to dig in to exactly what Georgia lawmakers are proposing to make it harder to vote right now and why it matters.

On Monday, the Georgia house of representatives approved a bill, HB531, that would implement sweeping changes to the state’s voting system. Among other measures, the bill would:

  • Require voters to provide identification information both with their absentee ballot application and the ballot itself.

  • Limit election officials to offer just two days of early voting on the weekends, one of which is required to be a Saturday.

  • Restrict early voting from 9am. to 5pm, with an option for election officials to extend hours from 7am to 7pm.

  • Give voters less time to request an absentee ballot.

  • Shorten the period for a runoff election from nine weeks to four.

In the state senate, there are also proposals to get rid of the state’s policy of automatically registering voters and to only allow voters to cast a ballot by mail if they are 65 or older or have a valid excuse. That would eliminate the so-called no-excuse absentee voting system Georgia Republicans – yes Georgia Republicans – enacted in 2005.

While proposals in states across the country are deeply alarming, the efforts in Georgia matter significantly for a few reasons:

  1. They come after an election in which there was record turnout in the state, including surges among Black and other minority voters, which helped power Democrats to stunning upsets.

  2. Georgia officials, including top Republicans, loudly dismissed allegations of fraud and there were statewide recounts and audits to back them up.

  3. They evoke Georgia’s well-documented and ugly history of passing laws designed to make it harder for Black people to vote


“They are very draconian in their nature,” said Aunna Dennis, the executive director of the Georgia chapter of Common Cause, a government watchdog organization. “What we’re seeing is a reaction to a problem that literally does not exist here in Georgia. These bills catch all of that. These are streamlining and rolling back the hands of time.”

Some measures in the bill, like the provisions curbing early voting, appear to be a thinly veiled effort to restrict access to the ballot for minority voters. In the 2020 election, 8.6% of white early voters cast their ballots on weekends, compared with 13.1% of Asian Americans and 11.8% of Black voters, according to an analysis by the Center for New Data.

It is also well-known that many Black churches run “Souls to the Polls” events on Sundays to encourage parishioners to get out and vote. Under the new law, election officials could choose not to offer any Sunday voting at all.

“In Georgia, because we had to fight so hard to get the right to vote here, voting is very much celebrated. It’s very much a community event,” Dennis said. “We use those weekend times to do that. For those cuts to happen that dramatically, that can also decrease the will of the people to want to be a part of this election because they will see this is just so many hurdles.”

During the debate in the Georgia house this week, Republicans justified the new restrictions by saying that there should be uniformity in early voting hours. But Democrats pointed out that reasoning was nonsensical because counties could still offer differing weekend days.

There’s also concern about the requirement that voters provide identification information both when they apply to vote by mail and when they send in their ballot. Some voters, especially those who are poor, disabled or elderly, might lack access to a Georgia’s driver’s license or be able to send in a photocopy of another form of ID. On the ballot itself, Georgia voters who lack acceptable ID would be required to put the last four digits of their social security number – sparking concern that voters will be forced to put sensitive personal information at risk.

Lastly, there’s deep concern over new limits on ballot drop boxes, which voters relied on because of concerns about mail delays. While local election officials could offer access to drop boxes 24/7 in 2020, the new bill would only allow officials to place drop boxes in early voting locations and allow access to them during early voting hours. It would not allow ballot drop boxes to be open on election day and only allow one box for every 100,000 voters.

Janine Eveler, the director of elections in Cobb county, said her county spent a lot of money purchasing boxes and installing surveillance cameras last year. She was happy the state was at least allowing drop boxes to continue, but questioned the need for some of the new restrictions.

“Placing the boxes inside advance voting locations will disrupt the flow of in-person voters in the poll, so I would rather they be located outside the polls if they have to be associated with advance voting locations,” she wrote in an email. “I don’t understand why they want to limit the number of drop boxes by 1:100,000 voters.”

The proposals, and many smaller bills, are still moving through the legislature and it’s not yet entirely clear which ones will be ultimately approved. Dennis added that the bills sent a disturbing message to the voters who turned out in unprecedented numbers last year.

“What do we tell those voters? Do we tell them that their energy, their enthusiasm and the success of the election meant nothing?,” she said.


Also worth watching …

  • The US House passed HR1, which contains the most sweeping voting reforms in decades. As Republicans move quickly to enact new voting restrictions across the US, Democrats are facing mounting pressure in the US Senate to get rid of the filibuster – which requires the approval of 60 senators to advance legislation – to enact the reforms

  • Activists are escalating a campaign to pressure major corporations like Coca-Cola, Delta and UPS to end support for lawmakers pushing voting restrictions in Georgia.

  • The Iowa legislature sent a bill to the governor that would reduce early voting from 29 days to 20 and close the polls an hour earlier. Governor Kim Reynolds is expected to sign the measure