Georgia Has Passed A Highly-Partisan Bill Overhauling State Voting Laws
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Lawmakers in Georgia have enacted an overhaul of the state's election rules. Republicans there had proposed a number of voting restrictions, though they walked back some of the more controversial provisions. The measure passed both of Georgia's legislative chambers along party lines. GOP Governor Brian Kemp spoke about the legislation this evening.
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BRIAN KEMP: With Senate Bill 202, Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair.
CORNISH: Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler joins us now. And, Stephen, the legislation in Georgia went through big changes over the last few days and weeks. Tell us what's actually in the bill that's passed.
STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Well, SB 202 is nearly 100 pages. It's really a combination of a number of proposals Republicans have offered. It passed quickly today, faster than we anticipated. It does things like add ID requirements for mail-in voting, limits when and where you can use drop boxes for absentee voting. And it would actually expand in-person early voting access for most counties in most elections, with optional days for weekends.
CORNISH: Which is not what we were hearing, right? That's a change, the expanded early voting.
FOWLER: Absolutely. The initial proposals would have basically banned Sunday voting, which is big for Black voters and Souls to the Polls events, who often, you know, head to the polls on those days in these bigger metro counties. Another idea that was proposed but scrapped would be ending no-excuse absentee voting. And that's something Republicans put in place 15 years ago. But there was a lot of pressure and pushback from Democrats, from Black advocates, from business community, even county elections officials. So those things were dropped off.
CORNISH: What's been the reaction from both sides of the aisle?
FOWLER: Well, Republicans control the legislature, and the lead House sponsor, Representative Barry Fleming, says the bill greatly expands accessibility while also providing more accountability to, quote, "ensure the integrity of the vote." On the other side, Democrats say much of this adds additional hurdles for people and really for no good reason because elections last year were successful despite these false claims of fraud. And Governor Brian Kemp obviously says that it is a good thing because it restores confidence in the elections and makes some changes that he says were needed to tweak this absentee process.
CORNISH: Georgia was the highlight of this past election season, as people really focused on its Senate races and also the robust kind of voter activism there. What are those advocates saying now?
FOWLER: Well, they've called it Jim Crow with a suit and tie. They say many of these changes weren't needed, and it's just Republicans trying to hold on to power in a state that has been a battleground not just electorally, but over this conversation of who gets to vote and how they do it.
CORNISH: What happens next?
FOWLER: Well, Governor Kemp signed the law just shortly ago, and it's certainly going to have legal challenges. Since there are 96 pages in the bill, there are a lot of different things that this bill changes, and many of them voting rights groups and even local elections officials say don't need to be there. So you should expect legal challenges on multiple fronts to this sweeping, sweeping measure.
CORNISH: That's Stephen Fowler from Georgia Public Broadcasting on the state's new voter regulations. Thank you for your time.
FOWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.