(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Protest against House Bill 531 in Atlanta
By Rich McKay
ATLANTA (Reuters) -Georgia’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill on Thursday that would impose new restrictions on voting in the state that helped Democrats win the White House and narrow control of the U.S. Senate.
The legislation is one of more than 250 bills Republicans have filed proposing new voting limits across the country since former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. Members of his party have seized on Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of election fraud to push for the restrictions.
Republicans in Georgia said their bill, approved in a 100-75 vote on Thursday, would make voting more secure. It must still be reconciled with a similar measure in the state Senate before it goes to Republican Governor Brian Kemp, who is a proponent of key elements of the measure, including stricter ID requirements.
Democrats and voting rights activists decried the measure as among the country’s most damaging attempts to limiting access to the ballot box.
Asked about Republican legislators’ efforts to restrict voting access across the United States, President Joe Biden on Thursday called such measures “un-American.”
The House bill in Georgia would add a new ID requirement for absentee ballots; limit ballot drop boxes, including eliminating them on the last four days of an election; and make it a misdemeanor crime to give food or drinks to voters waiting in long lines.
It also would also set up a fraud hotline, forbid local county elections offices from taking breaks while counting ballots and shorten the runoff election cycle from nine weeks to four weeks. In addition, it would allow the state election board the power to replace local county election boards.
Early versions of the bill sought to limit Sunday voting, a provision that would have curtailed traditional “Souls to the Polls” voter turnout programs popular in Black churches. Those days were restored after Democrats pushed back, and additional Saturday voting days also were included.
Earlier this week, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston said the bill would make “voting more accessible and improves election security.”
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday denounced the legislation.
It is “an anti-voter bill that attacks absentee voting, criminalizes giving Georgians a drink of water to their neighbors (and) allows state takeover of county elections,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.
Trump battled with Republican state leaders and elections officials in Georgia for weeks after his narrow defeat, making baseless claims of election fraud that were disproved by a hand and machine recount and rejected by the courts and investigators.
On Monday, Trump endorsed a challenger looking to defeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in the 2022 Republican primary.
Georgia state lawmakers approve new restrictions on voting
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