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'Extraordinarily Dangerous': Georgia House Passes Bill to Give GOP Lawmakers Control of Election Board

"The most radical fringes of the Republican Party sitting in the state legislature will be able to wipe out boards of elections... This is Jim Crow 2.0."

Demonstrators hold a sit-in inside of the Georgia state Capitol building in opposition to a voters suppression bill on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta.

Demonstrators hold a sit-in inside of the Georgia state Capitol building in opposition to a voter suppression bill on March 8, 2021 in Atlanta. (Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Update:

The Georgia state Senate on Thursday passed S.B. 202, a sweeping voter suppression bill, just hours after it won House approval. The measure now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has not said whether he intends to sign it.

Earlier:

Georgia's Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday passed an unpopular 96-page bill that would significantly alter state election laws by imposing more strict voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots, limiting ballot boxes, and giving the GOP legislature the ability to appoint a majority of the state's election board.

That last element of the legislation, which now heads to the state Senate, was viewed as particularly alarming by local voting rights activists who are warning of a far-reaching and deeply undemocratic Republican power-grab. If signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, the legislation would remove the elected secretary of state as chair of the state election board and give lawmakers major influence over the key body's operations.

"This is extraordinarily dangerous," Sara Tindall Ghazal, the former election protection director of the Georgia Democratic Party, told Mother Jones on Thursday. "When you're appointing the majority of the body that you're responsible to, it's self-dealing."

As Mother Jones' Ari Berman explained, the bill would also give the state election board significant power to "take over county election boards it views as underperforming, raising the possibility that elections officials appointed by and beholden to the heavily gerrymandered Republican legislature could take over election operations in Democratic strongholds like Atlanta's Fulton County, where Trump and his allies spread conspiracy theories about 'suitcases' of ballots being counted by election officials in November after GOP poll monitors had left."

Republican lawmakers in other states are engaged in similar efforts to exert more control over election boards that are supposed to be nonpartisan, as the New York Times reported Wednesday.

"In Arizona, Republicans are pushing for control over the rules of the state's elections," the Times noted. "In Iowa, the GOP has installed harsh new criminal penalties for county election officials who enact emergency voting rules. In Tennessee, a Republican legislator is trying to remove a sitting judge who ruled against the party in an election case."

The Georgia House's passage of S.B. 202—which incorporates elements of separate voter suppression measures that state lawmakers are considering—brings a step closer to enactment what civil rights activists have described as one of the worst legislative attacks since Jim Crow. The bill was immediately transmitted to the state Senate after it passed the House by a party-line vote of 100-75.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of advocacy group Fair Fight Action, warned during a press call earlier this week that if Kemp signs S.B. 202 in its current form, "the most radical fringes of the Republican Party sitting in the state legislature will be able to wipe out boards of elections, challenge voters because they don't have the right name according to them or they don't look the way they think they should look."

"This is Jim Crow 2.0," Groh-Wargo added.

During a news conference on Thursday, President Joe Biden condemned Republican-led voter suppression efforts across the nation as "sick," pointing specifically to a provision in S.B. 202 that would make it illegal for members of the public to distribute food and water to people waiting in line to vote.

"What I'm worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is," the president said, urging the Senate to pass the For the People Act, a sweeping voting rights bill that could nullify the hundreds of Republican-authored voter suppression bills currently moving through state legislatures across the country.

"I'm convinced we'll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing," Biden added.

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