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'Hijacking of Democracy in Plain Sight': Georgia GOP Transforms 2-Page Bill Into 93-Page Assault on Voting Rights

"Surprising advocates, legislators, and voters with a nearly 100-page bill is undemocratic and unacceptable."

Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia Capitol building to oppose the H.B. 531 on March 3, 2021 in Atlanta.

Demonstrators stand outside of the Georgia Capitol building to oppose the H.B. 531 on March 3, 2021 in Atlanta. (Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups are accusing Georgia state Republicans of launching an ambush attack on the franchise after GOP lawmakers transformed a two-page bill limiting who is permitted to send absentee ballot applications into a sprawling 93-page omnibus package that would significantly alter election laws and curtail voting rights.

"A desperate power grab to appease insurrectionists and losing political candidates."
—Fair Fight Action

The anger began to build Wednesday afternoon when Republican lawmakers released the substitute legislation to their Democratic colleagues and some advocacy groups just an hour before a House committee hearing on the bill, which now contains elements of two other GOP-led attacks on voting rights—S.B. 241 and H.B. 531—that the state legislature has acted on in recent days.

"The audacity," said James Woodall, president of the Georgia NAACP. "This is outrageous."

Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, warned that the new omnibus bill "combines nearly every tactic to disfranchise Black voters that we've seen to date."

"Advocates received only one hour's notice before the hearing," Nelson tweeted. "This is a hijacking of democracy in plain sight."

As Georgia Public Broadcasting reported Wednesday, the newly overhauled S.B. 202 adds dozens of sections to the original measure, "including banning people from giving food and water to voters waiting in line, limiting early voting days for larger counties, and adding ID requirements to absentee ballots."

GPB continued:

The most controversial language in the bill would standardize early voting days and hours, forcing most counties to be open longer and add a weekend day of early voting, while preventing larger, more Democratic-leaning counties from having a full slate of weekend voting. Some of the eliminated days include the highest proportion of Black voters during early voting, and county officials large and small have expressed concerns with the changes...

New language in SB 202 would limit provisional ballots for out-of-precinct voters to those who show up after 5 p.m. and sign a statement that they could not make it to their original precinct, plus add a proposal to make digital scans of ballots available through open records requests. The bill would also allow Georgians to initiate an unlimited number of challenges to voter registrations or eligibilities, and the challenge must be heard within ten business days of being filed.

The new bill's opening pages parrot familiar Republican claims about the potential for "rampant voter fraud" in absentee voting, despite the evidence for such fraud being virtually non-existent.

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"Shameless attack on democracy!" Georgia state Rep. Shea Roberts, a Democrat, said of the new legislation.

With another hearing on the bill expected Thursday afternoon, voting rights advocates who have been fighting S.B. 241 and H.B. 531 rushed to examine the omnibus measure's contents and were quick to voice alarm at what they discovered in the more than 90 pages of legislative text.

Fair Fight Action, an advocacy group founded by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, characterized the legislation as "part of a desperate power grab to appease insurrectionists and losing political candidates."

"The substitute not only includes a false and misleading preamble promoting the Big Lie and conspiracy theories, but also mirrors their similarly disastrous assaults on the right to vote, H.B. 531 and S.B. 241—with whole sections copied and pasted into the S.B. 202 substitute," the group tweeted Wednesday. "The new bill would lead to longer lines, restrict vote by mail, and more. It also grants the state legislature unprecedented power over elections and the State Election Board while stripping voters of representation."

"Surprising advocates, legislators, and voters with a nearly 100-page bill is undemocratic and unacceptable," the group continued. "The committee must reject the substitute to S.B. 202 and this shameless and dangerous attempt to restrict voting rights and rush through harmful anti-voting proposals."

The Georgia Republican Party's aggressive efforts to roll back voting rights in the state have garnered attention at the national level, with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.)—in his first-ever Senate floor speech Wednesday—condemning them and the hundreds of other GOP-authored voter suppression measures across the country as "Jim Crow in new clothes."

Georgia state Republicans began their latest offensive against the franchise in the wake of Warnock and Sen. Jon Ossoff's (D-Ga.) January runoff victories, which handed Democrats narrow control of the U.S. Senate.

"We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we've ever seen since the Jim Crow era," said Warnock. "As a voting rights activist, I've seen up close just how draconian these measures can be. I hail from a state that purged 200,000 voters from the rolls one Saturday night, in the middle of the night."

"We know what's happening here," Warnock added. "Some people don't want some people to vote."

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