Georgia’s state Senate on Monday passed an election bill that would repeal no-excuse absentee voting, among other sweeping changes in the critical swing state.
The legislation, which has been championed by state Republican lawmakers, passed in 29-20. It now heads to the Georgia House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass in the coming weeks.
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Under SB 241, voters would need to be 65 years old or older, absent from their precinct, observing a religious holiday, be required to provide constant care for someone with a physical disability, or required to work “for the protection of the health, life, or safety of the public during the entire time the polls are open,” or be an overseas or military voter to qualify for an absentee ballot. The bill aims to undo a 2005 Republican-backed law allowing no-excuse absentee voting.
The bill comes as Georgia has become ground zero for election law changes in the wake of the 2020 election. Republicans in the state, citing baseless allegations of voter fraud pushed by former President Donald Trump and other GOP officials, have moved to roll back access to mail-in voting and early voting.
Around the country, Republican-controlled state legislatures are relying on election falsehoods to mount aggressive changes to voting rules. As of February 19, lawmakers in more than 40 states had introduced more than 250 bills that included voting restrictions, according to a tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center For Justice at New York University, which is tracking the bills.
Georgia GOP Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, the primary sponsor of the bill, said in introducing the legislation in February that limiting absentee voting was necessary in order to reduce the costs of processing ballots, relieve stress on local election workers and increase the certainty that absentee ballots are counted.
“All we’re trying to do here is make sure we can afford it, the offices can manage it and the voters are certain their votes actually counted,” said Dugan.
Senate President Butch Miller, also a Republican, told CNN that the legislation aims to increase confidence in the Peach State’s election system following the 2020 elections.
“I want every legal vote counted, timely and accurately, and I want better access for all voters. Even those of us who never claimed that the election was stolen recognize that the electorate has lost confidence in the legitimacy of the system. We must work to restore that,” Miller said in an email statement to CNN.
The bill also creates ID requirements to request an absentee ballot, requiring anyone who does not have a state identification or state driver’s license to submit a copy of an approved form of ID when requesting an absentee ballot as well as when submitting their absentee ballot.
The bill would also establish and maintain a voter hotline at the State Attorney’s office for complaints and allegations of voter intimidation and illegal election activities, require Georgia to participate in a multi-state voter registration system in order to cross-check the eligibility of voters, limit the use of mobile voting locations, require a court order for extending polling hours, and would give the legislature authority to temporarily block any emergency voting rule changes, among a host of election law changes.
Georgia Democratic lawmakers have denounced the legislation as backlash to the record turnout of the 2020 election and January runoffs which saw the state turn blue with President Joe Biden becoming the first Democrat to win the presidential election in the Peach State in nearly three decades. And Georgia voters also elected two Democrats to the Senate in January runoffs.
“They (Republicans) passed this law. They didn’t use it. The Democrats did. The GOP lost. And because of that, now, they want to change the laws back,” Democratic Caucus Chair, Sen. Gloria Butler told CNN.
Lauren Groh-Wargo of Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, said in a pointed statement Monday, “This blatantly unconstitutional legislation will not go unchallenged.”
“It’s time for leaders across Georgia to step up and oppose this dangerous bill before it goes any further,” the group’s CEO said. “We will continue to fight in Georgia, in the courts, and in Congress to make sure that Georgians’ voting rights are not infringed.”
Voting rights activists say the bill would create additional barriers that would “restrict the freedom to vote” while also continuing GOP officials baseless voter fraud allegations.
“It’s a double pronged fight that we’re in right now: to push back against this disinformation which is extremely dangerous and on the voting front itself to make sure that these regressive bills are not codified into law,” said Poy Winichakul, staff attorney for the SPLC Action Fund.
Last week, the US House of Representatives passed HR 1, also know as the “For the People Act,” a sweeping government, ethics and election bill aimed at countering state-level Republican efforts to restrict voting access. The legislation would bar states from restricting the ability to vote by mail and, among other provisions, call for states to use independent redistricting commissions to create congressional district boundaries.
On Sunday, Biden signed an executive order expanding voting access and directing the heads of all federal agencies to submit proposals for their respective agencies to promote voter registration and participation within 200 days, while assisting states in voter registration under the National Voter Registration Act.
CNN’s Wes Bruer contributed to this report.