Georgia House passes sweeping voting bill, advances to Senate

ATLANTA — A sweeping bill that restricts ballot drop boxes, requires ID for absentee voting and limits weekend early voting days has passed the Georgia House.

House Bill 531 passed 97-72, strictly along party lines. Channel 2 political reporter Richard Elliot was at the state Capitol as the House took up the controversial bill right after lunch Monday.

Republicans insist this massive 66-page Omnibus Voting Bill is necessary to restore confidence in the voting system.

Democrats insist the bill is nothing more than voter suppression created by Republicans because they lost the presidential election and two Senate seats.

“Now, Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly are trying to change the rules of the election here in Georgia, rules that you wrote, because you were handed defeat on Nov. 3 and again on Jan. 5,” said state Rep. Kim Alexander, D-Hiram.

This bill would do things like reduce the number of early voting days, require an ID to apply for an absentee ballot and would make it a misdemeanor to give voters food or drink in the voting line if they’re within 150 feet of a polling place.

Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, wrote the bill and defended it on the floor of the House.

“HB 531 is designed to begin to bring back the confidence of our voters back into our election system,” he said.

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After the bill passed, House Democrats gathered on the steps of the south wing and accused Republicans of rolling back voting rights in Georgia.

“Georgia Republicans are lashing out after the back to back losses in the last election cycle and trying to turn back the clock on our voting rights,” said state Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale.

Officials in at least one metro county say they are ready to fight the new bill if it gets signed into law.

Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside told Channel 2 Gwinnett County Bureau Chief Tony Thomas that he’ll file a lawsuit to throw out the changes if the governor signs any bill.

Republican leaders in the county say the democratic solicitor should mind his own business.

Edward Muldrow, chair of the Gwinnett Republican party, supports the statewide changes.

“My question is who is asking you to do this?” Muldrow said. “Please stop with the emotions. Stop with the rhetoric. Stop with the hyperbole and let’s address issues.”

Whiteside points to the would-be reduction of drop boxes from 20 to 3 for a county of nearly 1 million. He also said changing the rules during a pandemic would greatly impact the county.

“It’s an unconstitutional burden on the citizens of Gwinnett County and it basically takes away their opportunity to vote,” Whiteside said.

He also insists it would increase the chances of civil unrest and burden local police.

“I have a concern about our population, and I can’t wait for someone else to do what is my duty. When I see something wrong, I need to attack it,” Whiteside said.

“There are some things in this bill that actually address issues and we can’t look at this bill in its entirety and say we don’t need it,” Muldrow said.

Whiteside said he has not put the lawsuit together yet but does plan on filing one as soon as any changes are made official.

The bill now goes over to the Senate.

The Senate has its own versions of an Omnibus Voting Bill, so time will tell which version will ultimately be approved by the legislature.