Georgia bishop says state GOP's elections bill is an 'attempt to suppress the Black vote'

Georgia bishop says state GOP's elections bill is an 'attempt to suppress the Black vote'
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Bishop Reginald Thomas Jackson issued a fiery rebuke Monday of a sweeping elections-related bill filed by Georgia Republicans last week, which he called “another attempt to suppress the Black vote” after the formerly red state went blue in the presidential election and last month’s Senate runoffs.

Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which includes more than 500 churches in the Peach State, condemned H.B. 531 during a hearing hosted by voting rights group Fair Fight Action on Monday.

Among a number of provisions listed in the 48-page measure is a section that would require advance voting for primaries, elections and runoffs to begin on the fourth Monday “immediately prior” to Election Day and end on the Friday before. The voting would be conducted on weekdays from 9 to 5 and the same hours on the second Saturday before a primary or election. 

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However, counties and municipalities would be barred from holding advance voting on Sundays, a day that Black churches in the state have previously used to increase voter participation among congregants with “Souls to the Polls” efforts.

“The Black church has always been engaged in trying to get our people to vote,” Jackson said. “So we used 'Souls to the Polls' as a means particularly to get our seniors and other members of our congregations to vote, to gather for worship and following worship to go to the polls to cast our ballot.” 

Jackson said the new bill “is nothing more than another attempt to suppress the Black vote.”

“Let’s just be honest: This bill is racist,” he continued, before taking aim at arguments Republican legislators have made in recent weeks claiming that the new election bills following Democratic victories are aimed at increasing security.

“They say that they are presenting this legislation because the citizens of Georgia do not have confidence in the election, that there is suspicion, that there was a lot of fraud in the voting,” he said, referring to November's presidential contest.

“There were three recounts. There’s been an audit. There was court case after court case. All three recounts didn’t change the outcome. The audit didn’t change the outcome. Every single court case was dismissed because they were without merit and had no evidence of fraud,” Jackson said.

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“If Republicans had won, not one single bill dealing with voting would’ve been introduced into this legislative session,” he added. 

Another bill that was passed by a state Senate subcommittee in a party-line vote last week sought to stop no-excuse absentee voting in the state after it saw record absentee turnout in November.

In addition to restricting the days residents can vote early in the state, H.B. 531 would also further limit when a voter will be able to request an absentee ballot and when elections officials can send them to voters, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB).

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE and other Republicans drew widespread criticism in recent months for repeating unfounded conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud following his defeat in November.

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"It was these very same Republicans who passed these laws a few years ago that provided for absentee ballot, that provided for early voting, that provided for ballot boxes," Jackson said. "These very same Republicans, when it worked for them, it was nothing wrong with them. But now that Blacks and people of color are using these processes to vote, that’s why now they say we’ve got to stop it."

Hillary Holley, a spokeswoman for Fair Fight Action, called Republicans' measure “a massive voter suppression bill” during the organization’s hearing on the legislation on Monday and said “they left voting rights organizations and elections officials on both sides of the aisle with only a few hours to review.”

Holley added that is part of the reason why Fair Fight Action "has decided to hold daily hearings so members of the public, members of the press and Georgia legislators can really have the opportunity to understand what is in this bill."

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the Southern Poverty Law Center also submitted testimony in the Georgia House of Representatives Special Committee on Election Integrity, where H.B. 531 was introduced, according to GPBon Friday to express opposition “in the strongest possible terms” to the measure. 

The bill, the groups said in the testimony, is “poised to create unnecessary barriers and burdens on voters that disproportionately impact racial minority, low-income, elderly, rural, disabled and/or student voters—rather than foster ways to expand political participation on the heels of ever-grown participation by Georgians in elections.”

The measure, they noted, also “tellingly” comes “in the wake of a historic election in which Black Georgians comprised 30.3% of absentee voters, and a total of 36.7% of voters by mail were Georgians of color; where more than 17% of absentee voters were under thirty-five years old.” 

In addition to opposing the bill’s provision limiting the days Georgia residents can vote early, the groups also focuses on another provision proposing photo identification requirements for absentee voting — a practice they note has had a “disparate impact” on “historically disenfranchised groups.”

“If passed, the prospect of these provisions, combined with the photo ID requirement, pose an intolerable and discriminatory obstacle to accessing the ballot box for Georgia voters, especially to voters of color,” the groups added.