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Georgia state GOP senators drop multiple bills that could make it harder to vote

Republican state senators in Georgia filed a series of bills on Monday, several of which could make it more difficult to vote in the state.

The proposals come after Democrats succeeded in flipping the state blue in last month’s pivotal U.S. Senate runoffs and during the November presidential election. 

State Republicans introduced eight pieces of legislation Monday, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB). The majority of those pieces would directly impact how voting and voter registration is carried out in the state, which saw record turnout during the Senate runoffs and the presidential election.  

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S.B. 71, which is among those bills, seeks to place further restrictions on who can vote by absentee. The bill includes a number requirements a voter would have to meet to be able to cast a ballot by mail, including being “absent from his or her precinct during the time of the primary,” having a physical disability that would prevent them from being able to go to the polls or being at least 75 years of age.

The bill also includes exemptions for voters with religious reasons that would prevent them from being able go to the polls and for election workers.

S.B. 70 would make voters who cast a ballot outside Georgia in a general election for a U.S. House representative or U.S. senator and then subsequently move to the Peach State “ineligible to vote in a runoff for any such offices in this state in the same election cycle.”

Other bills were introduced by the state’s Senate GOP on Monday that would stop absentee ballots from being returned through drop boxes or only allow for the secretary of state, election superintendents, a board of registrars, candidates or their campaign committees to distribute absentee ballot applications.

One bill, S.B. 69, would repeal what's known as the "Motor Voter Law" and prevent Georgia residents from automatically registering to vote or updating their voter information via applications to obtain, renew or modify a driver's license or state identification card unless the voter “affirmatively and specifically on such application indicates his or her desire to register to vote and signs the voter registration application,” the legislation states.

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Another bill would mandate voters’ absentee ballot applications also provide their driver's license number, their card number for state identification or photocopies of their form of identification. The bill includes exemptions for service members and those overseas. 

That bill has 26 co-sponsors, of which, according to GPB, a handful were part of a lawsuit brought by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) that unsuccessfully sought to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

The voting legislation introduced on Monday has already begun to draw criticism from voting rights advocates. It also comes days after another Republican in the state Senate, Jason Anavitarte, introduced a bill requiring voters to send copies of their photo ID twice to election officials before being able to vote by absentee ballot. 

Seth Bringman, spokesman for Fair Fight, a national voting rights organization founded by former Democratic Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, criticized the legislation in a statement this week.

"This unhinged set of voter suppression bills from a radical Senate Republican leadership appears intended to appease conspiracy theorists like those who stormed the Capitol last month,” Bringman said.

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“The bills are unnecessary by Republicans' own assessments of the 2020 election, and designed to limit access and help Republicans stop losing elections in Georgia. Republicans wrote Georgia's election laws, but they were humiliated on November 3 and January 5, so they are seeking to silence Georgians, particularly communities of color, who exercised their power to change Georgia,” he continued.

Bringman said the voting rights organization and its allies are “prepared to fight every Republican attempt to roll back voting rights.”

“Their desperation to hold onto power at the expense of Georgians' constitutional right to access the ballot has never been clearer,” he added.

Fair Fight was one of a number of voting rights groups that drew widespread praise last year for their organizing efforts in helping boost Democrats during the U.S. runoffs and the presidential election.

Abrams’s efforts to combat voter suppression in Georgia ahead of both elections was also cited when she was nominated this week for the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Monday, which was also the first day of Black History Month and the last day a person could be nominated for the award, Lars Haltbrekken, a Socialist Party politician in Norway’s parliament, said Abrams’s “work follows in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps in the fight for equality before the law and for civil rights.”