Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 202 on Thursday. Despite objections raised by Democrats, the election reform bill passed 34-20 in the state Senate and 100-75 in the state House and was signed into law by the governor shortly before 7 p.m. The Republican-sponsored 'Election Integrity Act of 2021' is designed to ensure election integrity in Georgia's elections by placing restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are governed.
Protestors outside the Georgia State Capitol wished for a different outcome for bill SB 202, but many assumed the final decision. Democrats, as is custom with most attempts to preserve integrity in the election process, labeled the bill as a direct and racially-motivated effort to suppress the voting rights of citizens of color. One Democrat lawmaker was arrested trying to confront Governor Kemp over the measure.
Kemp told Fox News that the new law is actually about "expanding the right to vote," not suppressing it, noting that it adds "days of early voting on the weekends." With election integrity in mind, he elaborated further, saying:
"[the bill] further secures our absentee ballots by mail by requiring a photo I.D., which the vast majority of Georgians support. We’re expanding the right to vote in Georgia. You’re not hearing that from the other side. That’s what the truth is, as well as further securing absentee ballot boxes, which didn’t exist before."
Following a record 1.3 million absentee ballots cast in last November's election—which overwhelmed local election officials and delayed the final vote count—the 98-page bill signed weeks after House lawmakers passed HB 531 with similar restrictions makes powerful changes to Georgia's absentee voting rules, adding new voter I.D. requirements, moving back the request deadline, and other changes. Among other issues, the bill states:
- Absentee ballot verification would be based on driver's license numbers or other documentation instead of voter signatures.
- Ballot drop boxes would only be allowed inside early voting locations and available strictly during business hours.
- Weekend voting would be expanded for general elections, with two mandatory Saturdays offered statewide. Counties could also choose to provide early voting on two optional Sundays.
- Early voting before runoffs would be reduced to a minimum of one week, with runoffs held four weeks after the general election.
- The deadline to request an absentee ballot would be set 11 days before election day.
- Members of the public would be prohibited from distributing food or water to voters waiting in line.
- The State Election Board could remove county election boards and replace them with an interim elections manager.
- The attorney general's office would set up a hotline to report illegal election activities.
- Counties would be required to certify election results within six days instead of the ten days currently allowed. Election workers would also be required to count ballots without stopping until they're finished.
The bill addresses the concern of many legislators and U.S. citizens who believe left-leaning lawmakers used COVID-19 to drive the momentous effort to lay the groundwork to establish (what they hope to be permanent) mass absentee voting before the 2020 elections, declaring it was a necessary transition due to the pandemic. Fraught with significant problems, SB202 addresses the fundamental issue surrounding mail-in voting intently, stating:
"The stress of the 2020 elections, with a dramatic increase in absentee-by-mail ballots and pandemic restrictions, demonstrated where there were opportunities to update existing processes to reduce the burden on election officials and boost voter confidence."
The legislation, the first to be passed in a battleground state since Joe Biden's declared victory in Georgia, discusses the issue of distributing food or water to voters as they wait in line to vote, which was a topic brought up by President Biden in his first press conference as President of the United States on Mar. 25. Not at all designed to cause suffering to human beings waiting to vote, the measure elaborates on why this matter is included, stating:
"The sanctity of the precinct was also brought into sharp focus in 2020, with many groups approaching electors while they waited in line. Protecting electors from improper interference, political pressure, or intimidation while waiting in line to vote is of paramount importance to protecting the election system and ensuring elector confidence."
As previously reported by UncoverDC, certain key battleground precincts around the country received funding from left-leaning out-of-state donors Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan, who gave approx. $400 million to an allegedly "nonpartisan" nonprofit, the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), which in turn re-granted the funds to thousands of governmental election officials around the country, including some counties in the state of Georgia. In fact, nine out of ten of CTCL’s largest known grants went to counties Joe Biden won. The bill heeds the disparity in funding, stating:
“Some counties in 2020 received significant infusions of grant funding for election operations, while other counties received no such funds. Promoting uniformity in the distribution of funds to election operations will boost voter confidence and ensure that there is no political advantage conferred by preferring certain counties over others in the distribution of funds.”
A key change in the bill, which some voting rights groups fear could lead to greater partisan influence, gives the GOP-controlled legislature more control over election administration. Some view the modification as a provision that could target Democratic-stronghold Fulton County, which was plagued with problems in the summer primary elections. Under the new law, the elected secretary of state will be replaced as the chair of Georgia's election board with a new appointee of the legislature after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rebuked President Trump's attempts to examine the state's election results. It also authorizes the board to remove and replace county election officials considered to be under-performing. Of the change, Republican state Rep. Barry Fleming, the bill’s sponsor, argued on the Georgia House floor:
“The bill greatly expands accessibility of voters in Georgia and greatly improves the process of administration of elections, while at the same time providing more accountability to ensure the integrity that the vote is properly preserved.”