The news of a new 93-page bill came about an hour before the scheduled hearing of a special election integrity committee in the House of Georgia, and sparked outrage from voting rights activists who they called it a “shameful” recreation tactic.
“They’re attacking voting rights from all angles,” Hillary Holley of Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group, said at a hastily organized press conference.
Earlier in the day, the committee’s public agenda had described the hearing as centered on a two-page bill, which dealt closely with absentee voting provisions, only to replace it with the general bill.
The unexpected move comes as the Georgian legislature moves toward the conclusion scheduled for March 31 of its legislative session. The new package incorporates elements of other controversial voting laws that have already been passed by the state House and Senate, along with several new measures.
Some voting rights activists chose to criticize a provision that would give any Georgian the right to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters. In the run-up to the Jan. 5 Senate election, groups such as the conservative organization True the Vote tried to question the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of Georgia voters.
“This invites people to interfere with voter rights,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, on language in the new bill. “This is very reminiscent of any white person being able to say, ‘This black person can’t vote.'”
Barry Fleming, Georgia’s GOP state representative who oversees the committee and guides voting laws at Georgia House, did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
But during Wednesday’s session, he said other lawmakers would have a chance to “debate and ask questions” about the bill. “The committee will make the final decision on what we do or don’t do,” he added. His committee plans to resume work on Thursday.
The Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia has been at the forefront of efforts to set new limits for voting across the country, following a barrage of false claims by former President Donald Trump that fraud led to his election loss last November.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election and prosecutors in Fulton County, Georgia, are investigating Trump’s attempt to inflate state officials.
Georgia’s demographic changes have made the long-standing Republican stronghold a key political battlefield. Last November, President Joe Biden became the first Democrat in nearly three decades to win the state. And strong voter turnout in January helped send two Democrats to the U.S. Senate, transferring control of the chamber to the party. One of these new senators, Raphael Warnock, took his seat in a special election and will vote again in 2022.
The preamble to the new bill states that changes are needed to address the “lack of voter confidence in the electoral system.”
The bill makes big changes in the way elections are administered and in how and when voters can receive and vote. Under the proposal, for example, voters should request absentee votes 11 days before the election, instead of the Friday before election day, as currently allowed. And voters seeking absentee ballots should provide a copy of their Georgia ID or state ID or ID card number.
It is unclear which of the laws being considered in Georgia will likely pass and be addressed at the table of the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp. In an email, Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, said it was “premature” to assume that the bill that arrived today “will be the final bill or that this would be the final version.” “.
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