Georgia state lawmakers passed a sweeping elections measure Thursday afternoon that supporters say will bolster election security, but opponents say will infringe on basic voter rights.
Senate Bill 202 intends to place new restrictions on absentee voting, allow the State Legislature to take over county election boards and ban citizens from providing refreshments to people waiting in line to vote, among other things.
“It certainly does not make voting easier for people. It does throw hurdles in the way,” said state representative Spencer Frye, who represents part of Athens-Clarke County for House District 118.
Frye voted against the bill in the State House, but the Republican majority pushed it through with a party-line vote of 100-75. The State Senate also voted along party lines 34-20 to send the legislation to the governor for him to sign into law.
“You can see where individually these pieces of legislation may not seem harmful, they may not seem like a major change, but when you put them all together, it is sweeping Jim Crow all over again,” Frye said.
The ACC Board of Elections and Voter Registration, as of March 23, denounced the legislation and described it as voter suppression. It also called on the Georgia General Assembly to oppose the legislation and its “injurious provisions.”
Frye described the measure which would give state-level officials the ability to usurp local election boards as “egregious” and “insane.”
The 96-page bill, which passed through the State House and Senate in a single day, would limit early voting efforts, as counties are now only required to hold early voting Monday through Friday the week before the election.
Another provision would change rules surrounding absentee voting drop boxes, which were popular in the last election cycle due to COVID-19. This provision would make these drop boxes only accessible while polling locations are open.
“It does take away some opportunities. I believe it does put the voter in a more responsible role,” said the Director of the Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, Charlotte Sosebee.
After a year when a majority of ACC voters utilized absentee or early voting, Sosebee said SB 202 is likely to dampen absentee voting in ACC in the future.
“It will put more responsibility on the voter to get to the polls on election day,” Sosebee said.
The new law would also make it a crime for people who are not poll workers to hand out refreshments to electors waiting in line to vote. In the past election cycle, some precincts saw up to eight-hour lines. Frye said he was “extremely disappointed” by this part of the law.
“I think that living in the United States of America that, rather than trying to limit people’s access to the polls, that we should be expanding access to the polls … the problem is the people that are in control are the ones that don’t want access to voting because their policies are not as popular right now,” Frye said.
Sosebee assured future success in spite of the new law.
“We will do everything we can in Athens-Clarke County to make sure that if you’re registered to vote, that you can, and if you want to register, we want to make sure that there are opportunities for that,” Sosebee said.
Gov. Brian Kemp took to Twitter to share the news of the passage of the bill by posting a picture of him signing the legislation with six Georgia Republican lawmakers. The seven men posed in front of a portrait of an historic slave plantation known as Callaway Plantation.