ATLANTA, Ga. — After Democrats landed historic wins in Georgia in January, Republican elected officials have filed a wave
of proposed bills meant to suppress the vote in future elections. Historic runoff elections in January shook Georgia Republicans after both congressional Senate seats flipped blue, thanks largely to black voters.
Georgia’s state government rarely goes above and beyond to increase access to democracy for Georgians in minority communities. But recent state Republican legislation is glaringly racist and is a clear attempt at voter suppression. It must be addressed. Georgia voters stood in line for hours, traveled long distances and overcame disinformation campaigns during the 2020 election to make progress for themselves and for America. This assault on Georgians’ civil rights demands our full attention.
So let’s dive in.
Where we’re at
Georgia currently operates under a Republican trifecta. Georgia’s state Senate, state House and Governor’s office are all controlled by the Republican party. Georgia state leadership recently won the praise of the country after standing up to former President Donald Trump’s attempts to commit election fraud with their assistance.
But we can’t forget who these folks are and the actions the Kemp administration has taken to disenfranchise voters (voters of color specifically) in the past. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp served as Secretary of State for Georgia during his 2018 bid for Governor, which he ultimately won. In the three months leading up to that election, his office purged nearly 90,000 voters from the voter rolls, many of them black voters. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 1.5 million voters (which is more than 10% of all voters) were purged from records, according to a 2018 Report from the Brennon Center for Justice. As governor, Kemp has continued the work he championed in 2018 with the assistance from current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. They appear to be capitalizing on the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling which gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
What are the bills?
A slate of voter disenfranchisement bills are currently within the legislative pipeline. And there’s one election omnibus bill that is particularly concerning. HB 531 would turn racism into state law (again) through a range of provisions rooted in racist and classist ideology.
The Georgia Legislative Black Caucus held a press conference on Feb. 25 to express their strong opposition to the bill. Chairwoman Senator Tonya Anderson (D-Lithonia) said “we stand in opposition to any policy that goes against our hard-fought voting rights.”
House Bill 531 – filed by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) and made available for viewing one hour before the legislature held a 3 p.m. hearing on it.
Similar to the whitelash that followed the election of former President Barack Obama and led to the election of former President Donald Trump, Georgia Republicans are leading a whitelash of their own. In a 48 page omnibus election bill, Fleming seeks to shut the doors on the popular early voting effort Souls to the Polls. Souls to the Polls is a partnership between historically Black churches and nonprofits. It seeks to drive up black voter turn-up by shuttling folks between Sunday service and their polling locations. HB 531 would expressly prohibit that by stripping Georgian’s access to Sunday voting.
Targeting majority-minority counties that won big for Democrats
The bill also strips power from DeKalb County and Fulton County officials who have worked to increase voter turnout countywide. In 2020, both counties mailed absentee ballot applications to every voter. They also employed the use of mobile voting buses. Moreover, both counties are majority-minority areas that drew the attention of voters nationwide in the final days and hours of the November general election (and again during their Congressional run-off in 2021.)
Further, Fleming doesn’t want absentee ballot drop boxes to serve their purpose of providing increased accessibility. In the bill, Fleming calls for the use of drop boxes to be restricted to early voting locations. That would purposefully remove closer options for voters who may not be able to make the journey to their polling location.
And in one of the clearest signs of voter suppression, Fleming’s bill contains inexplicable restrictions on early voting. Section 12 takes away counties ability to extend early voting with an extra weekend. It also requires the hours be limited to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the ability to extend to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. if needed.
Additionally, this bill incorporates ID requirements and poll taxes in the form of additional verification requirements.
Other bills we are watching
SB 67, SB 71, SB 89, SB 93, SB 241, HB 270
What can you do?
Call your state elected officials as soon as you can. The majority party in Georgia’s state legislature actively engages in voter suppression, especially of black voters. They want it enshrined into state law – again. You can find the contact information for your state house representative here.
If you’re not a Georgia voter, consider supporting the work of one of the following Black-led grassroots organizations dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Black voters in Georgia. Fair Fight, The New Georgia Project, All Voting is Local – Georgia, Black Voters Matter – Georgia, ACLU – Georgia and The Georgia NAACP – just to name a few.