On Wednesday, I published an article questioning the sacredness of American democracy when one political party does everything in its power to suppress minority voters. Cited in the article was a quote by the chairwoman of the Gwinnett County Republican Party where she said that Georgia had to change some of its voting laws “so that we at least have a shot of winning.” On Thursday, the Georgia Republican Party aimed to do just that.
They introduced a 48-page bill to change voting procedures, precisely targeted at Black voters. Ari Berman, a writer for MotherJones, described it bluntly as a “voter suppression bill.” The bill is meant to change the early voting and absentee voting laws, primarily aimed at the democratic areas surrounding Atlanta that voted heavily pro-Biden in the 2020 presidential election.
Here are the main points of HB 531:
- The bill lays out the window for the early voting period in an effort of “uniformity,” but adversely impacts Black voters. All counties would hold early voting in a three-week period from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and a mandatory 9 to 5 period on the second Saturday before the election. Section 12 of HB 531 states, “voting shall occur only on the days specified in this paragraph and counties and municipalities shall not be authorized to conduct advance voting on any other days.”
While at face value, this step seems logical, however, it is notable because it disallows early voting on Sundays. Some states, including Georgia, have what is called “Souls to the Polls,” which is a Black voter mobilization effort that brings church-goers to the polls on the Sunday before the election. It is a very popular day, particularly in large metro areas, and was especially popular in the 2020 presidential election which saw twice the number of pre-election votes cast compared to the 2016 election.
- The bill also takes direct aim at Fulton County in Atlanta which used mobile voting units for the first time in 2020. The mobile units are largely placed at churches that are already early voting sites in an effort to create voting accessibility and be an efficient mechanism to keep voters from waiting at the polls for hours. The bill explicitly states that the mobile units should be used “in emergency circumstances to supplement the capacity of existing polls.”
- The last major point of the 48-page bill is the restriction of the window for voters to request an absentee ballot. No ballot could be requested earlier than eleven weeks before an election or later than two Fridays before, and could not be sent out until four weeks before. While not inherently damaging, it requires more mobilization and education efforts to get people to request their ballot and send it in on time. It is a small, but effective step to again minimize the impact of early voting.
Embedded in the blatant disenfranchisement efforts are some logical proposals to help voters. One section determines that any precinct that has over 2,000 electors and had to wait in line for over an hour on election day should either reduce the size of the precinct or offer more voting equipment. There is also more “flexibility” for staffing at polling stations and equipment requirements at lower-turnout primaries and run-offs.
However, the same-day voting wasn’t a problem for Republicans in their effort to have Georgia vote for Donald Trump which is why HB 531 focuses much more on restricting access to early voting. The early voting period overwhelmingly favored Democrats from the Black vote. In the 2021 Senate run-off, early voting accounted for nearly 50% of total votes in some counties, particularly in the areas surrounding Atlanta. In the 2020 presidential election, that number was closer to 60% in many of those same areas.
On November 3rd, one day before the election, a Republican consultant told Politico, “Democrats built an early lead in early vote and absentee ballots, but they do that every year. We are catching up to them this third week [of early voting] and we [typically] beat them on Election Day, and that’s what we’re seeing.”
Yet, they didn’t catch up. And what happens when you don’t win? You change the rules.