Georgia Republicans back away from some voting restrictions

Top Republicans in Georgia’s state legislature are backing away from a controversial plan to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting and to do away with early voting on Sundays after increasing criticism from voting rights groups and the state’s largest businesses.

In a hearing late Thursday, legislators said their package of election law changes would drop some of the most controversial elements. State Rep. Barry Fleming (R), who heads the Special Committee on Election Integrity, said the new version of the bill would allow up to four weekend days of early voting, more than what is currently required.

Fleming and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan (R) both said they do not expect the final bill will eliminate no-excuse absentee voting, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

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The bill would still limit the ability of voting rights advocates to send absentee ballot request forms to voters who have already sought a ballot and would limit a voter’s ability to cast a provisional ballot outside their home precinct. 

Voters who cast absentee ballots would have to submit their driver’s license number or other documentation attesting to their identity, a new method of verifying ballots that would stand in for a signature-matching process currently on the books. And the bill would limit drop boxes for absentee ballots to the inside of early voting locations.

Voters would have to request their absentee ballot at least 11 days before an election. Groups would not be allowed to distribute food to voters waiting in line.

Voting rights groups were outraged over provisions to limit no-excuse absentee voting, a method initially passed by an earlier Republican legislature, and Sunday early voting, when Black churches typically run “souls to the polls” programs to inspire their congregants to vote.

Those groups won important allies in recent days from the business community. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Home Depot publicly opposed the new restrictions proposed in the Republican-sponsored bills.