ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia state House on Thursday passed legislation brought by Republicans that could lead to a sweeping overhaul of state election law, including provisions adding new requirements and restrictions on absentee voting and giving the GOP-led legislature greater control over the administration of elections.
The bill, which Democrats and voting rights groups say would disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color, is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states across the country after former President Donald Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his election loss in November.
The GOP efforts to change voting laws in Georgia come after record-breaking turnout led to Democratic victories in the presidential election and two U.S. Senate runoffs in the once reliably red state.
The measure will now head to the state Senate for more debate. It could result in a House-Senate conference committee where the two chambers hash out their differences before voting again on a compromise bill.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has endorsed one prominent piece of the bill requiring a photo ID for absentee voting but has otherwise refrained from publicly weighing in.
The bill passed the House 100-75, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed.
Democratic Rep. Rhonda Burnough said the bill was based on lies told by Republicans after last year’s election.
“Georgians turned out in record-breaking numbers because they could access the ballot,” Burnough said. “Lies upon lies were told about our elections in response, and now this bill is before us built on those same lies.”
The bill would require a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It would also cut the time period people have to request an absentee ballot and limit where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.
Republican Rep. Jan Jones said the provisions cutting the time people have to request an absentee ballot are meant to “increase the likelihood of a voter’s vote being cast successfully,” after concerns were raised in 2020 about mail ballots not being received by counties in time to be counted.
The bill would also bar outside groups from handing out food or water to people standing in line to vote.
One of the biggest changes in the bill would give the GOP-controlled legislature more control over election administration, a change that has caused concern among voting rights groups who say it could lead to greater partisan influence.
The bill would replace the elected secretary of state as the chair of the state election board with a new appointee of the legislature after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rebuffed Trump's attempts to overturn Georgia's election results. It would also allow the board to remove and replace county election officials deemed to be underperforming.
That provision is widely seen as something that could be used to target Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that includes most of Atlanta, which came under fire after long lines plagued primary elections over the summer.
Republican Rep. Barry Fleming, who has been a driving force in crafting the bill, said that provision would only be a “temporary fix, so to speak, that ends and the control is turned back over to the locals after the problems are resolved.”
The bill also reduces the timeframe in which runoff elections are held, including the amount of early voting for runoffs.
The bill does not contain some of the more contentious proposals that were floated by Republicans earlier in the session, including limits on early voting on Sundays, a popular day for Black churchgoers to vote in “souls to the polls” events. It would instead mandate two Saturdays of early voting ahead of general elections, when only one is currently mandatory, and leave two Sundays as optional.
But that change has not tempered opposition from Democrats or voting rights groups.
About 50 protesters including representatives from the NAACP gathered across the street from the Capitol building Thursday in opposition to the bill.
During the rally, Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church called for a boycott of Coca-Cola Co. products.
Jackson, who leads more than 400 churches across Georgia, said the Atlanta-based soft drink company had failed to live up to the commitments it made last year to support the Black Lives Matter movement by not forcefully opposing the voting bills being pushed by Republicans.
“We took them at his word,” he said of Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey. “Now, when they try to pass this racist legislation, we can’t get him to say anything.”
Jackson said boycotts were also possible against other large Atlanta companies, such as Delta Air Lines and Home Depot.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce pushed against some proposals Republicans later dropped, including eliminating no-excuse absentee voting. But the business lobbies and top Atlanta corporations have not vocally opposed all changes.
Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.