HB 531 passed in the Georgia house chamber—here\’s what’s next

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The final vote of HB 531, Georgia Republicans\’ omnibus voter suppression bill on Mon., March 1. HB 531 is just one of many voter suppression bills attempting to pass in the Georgia General Assembly this legislative session. Photo credit: Aja Arnold/The Mainline.

GEORGIA — On Mon., March 1, the Georgia state house passed HB 531, Georgia Republicans\’ omnibus voter suppression bill, in a 97-72 vote. The bill now makes its way to the state senate for a vote that will take place after March 8.

[ Take action now: Call and/or email Georgia state senators and tell them to kill HB 531 and SB 241 ]

[ Related: A guide to the bills to watch in Georgia ]

HB 531 is one of many voter restrictive measures that are making their way through the current state legislative sessions across the country. According to Brennan Center for Justice, 33 states have introduced, profiled, or carried over 165 voting restrictive bills this year (as compared to 35 such bills in 15 states on Feb. 3, 2020). To date, 37 states have introduced, profiled, or carried over 541 bills to expand voting access (dwarfing the 188 expansive bills that were filed in 29 states as of Feb. 3, 2020). Notably 125 such bills were introduced in New York and New Jersey.

To recap, HB 531 does the following, as provided by Rep. Bee Nguyen of District 89:

  • Prohibits local election boards from receiving grant funding to run elections more efficiently. In 2020, local boards applied for funding to supplement financial needs. These funds were used for personal protective equipment (PPE), additional voting equipment, and hazard pay for election workers. Both Republican and Democratic counties benefited from these grants, including Cherokee County, Columbia County, DeKalb County, Fulton County, and Gwinnett County.
  • Eliminates the ability of local election boards to expand weekend voting and forces counties to choose between Saturday and Sunday voting. The ability to expand weekend voting helped shorten lines on Election Day. In addition the prohibition of Sunday voting will effectively eliminate Souls to the Polls. In 2020, 71,764 voters took advantage of Sunday voting. Of these voters, 36.7% of voters were Black Georgians.
  • Severely restricts the use of secure drop boxes to deposit absentee ballots. During the 2020 elections, as well as the U.S. Senate run-off elections this past January, drop boxes were widely popular among Georgia voters on both sides of the aisle. Currently, drop boxes require 24/7 video surveillance, must be located on government property, and must be bolted to the ground.
  • This bill would only allow drop boxes to be used during the early voting period and requires that the drop boxes be inside the building and only available during voting hours. Election board officials stated that these prohibitions would not only be costly (they invested money in the secure drop boxes located outside), but would not help voters who cannot drop their ballots off during regular work hours, or for voters who used drop boxes to maintain safety during the pandemic.
  • Drop boxes would require the surveillance of election workers or law enforcement, which would be cost prohibitive to local election boards. For instance, Cobb County reported a shortage of poll workers during the U.S. Senate run-off election. In addition, staffing drop boxes with a law enforcement introduces the element of voter intimidation.
  • Bans voters from the ability to vote by provisional ballot if they appear in the wrong precinct, even if they are in the correct county. In 2020 and 2021, voters often appeared at early voting locations on Election Day and were eligible to vote with a provisional ballot if they could not make it to their polling place. In addition to the consolidation and closure of polling places, including in my own district, voters did not receive adequate notification of these changes. This change would certainly throw out the ballots of eligible, legal voters.

After passing in the house chamber, the bill is now making its way to the state senate for a vote on the week of March 8. Visit our most recently updated phone/email list and script to write and call Georgia senators to kill HB 531.

We are following this bill and will continue to report on this story with updated calls to action.

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