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Future, Old, Party

Georgia Lawmakers Pass Contentious Electoral Reform Bill

Georgia’s State legislature is embroiled in a fight about electoral reform. A preview of what will happen in the rest of the country.

Georgia’s House of Representatives passed H.B 531, the latest of a series of legislative proposals aimed at reforming the statutes governing the electoral process in the state. The bill, which has been highly controversial, passed with a 97-72 vote margin along party lines and will go to the Republican-dominated state Senate later this month. The Senate has also passed a flurry of electoral reform bills, meaning that a compromise version would eventually have to be hammer out in the following weeks.

Georgia has been mired in a new political battle centered on the electoral rules of the state, after months of former President Trump and his legal team casted doubt on the electoral integrity of the state after losing the presidential election in 2020 and even called Secretary of State Raffesperger to pressure him to change the outcome of the Georgia election, as infamously reported by The Washington Post. Georgia GOP has said that these reforms are urgent if we want people to regain trust in the electoral process, which is alarmingly low among registered Republicans (only 33% of them say they trust the system, according to a Morning Consult poll)

The House bill contains, among other things: requesting voter ID for absentee ballots, to prevent the distribution of food and water near the polling stations, reducing the timeframe to access an absentee ballot to 78 days before the election (currently is 180), eliminating Sundays as a day available for early-voting, requiring voters to submit proof of identity when mailing their absentee ballot, and ensuring provisional ballots are only counted if they were casted in the precinct where the voter is registered.

The bill has been heavily criticized by Democrats as they argue that it would create a burden to minority voters who tend to vote Democratic. With the Caucus Leader of the Democratic Party in the state chamber calling the measure a “sweeping suppression bill” in a statement posted in the twitter account of the Democratic Party of Georgia and former Georgia candidate for governor Stacey Abrams saying the GOP bills (both in the house and the senate) would “take the clock back” on voting rights.

Republicans, on the other hand, have argued that this bill will not do what Democrats are accusing them of. With the primary sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Barry Fling says the bill would “begin to bring back confidence of our voters back into the electoral system”. Additionally, the Lieutenant governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan supported the Senate proposals and even moderate republicans, like Jeb (!) Bush have signaled their approval at some of these legislatives initiatives aimed at Georgia’s electoral system. In fact, the press release by Geoff Duncan, even gives support to one bill proposed by a Democrat Georgia senator, as he says that he would “only support common-sense election reforms”.

Since both the Senate and the House need to debate and adjust their competing bills in conference, it is very likely that the process would still drag our for a while before a bill can be signed and sent to the governor for approval. However, if the House vote indicates us anything, the final bill will pass without a single democratic vote, leaving the door open for Democrats arguing that Georgia has incurred in widespread voter suppression, delegitimizing the electoral process even further.

The new fight for electoral rules in Georgia would likely not be the last one we would see over the next months. As both parties would try their best to paint their rivals as either voter suppressors or voter fraud plotters. In fact, House Democrats have already introduced H.R 1, a bill aimed at overhauling the electoral system nationwide.

Georgia-passes-electoral-reform-bill
The Georgia State Senate will now review the bill approved by the House (Flickr)

The fact that there was no substantive evidence of significant electoral fraud on the 2020 election does not prevent us to support many common-sense measures that can be taken that would make it easier for officials to process the vote safely and transparently. Furthermore, even if it is completely understandable that states started to expand the scope of absentee, early, and mail-in voting (a record 92.1 million voters requested absentee ballots in 2020) last year due to the raging pandemic, that does not mean this should be the new normal.

The United States is entering a dangerous vicious spiral of democratic mistrust. Republicans have spent large part of the last couples months saying that the American Electoral system is rigged and that there is ample evidence that there was widespread fraud. On the other side, Democrats are doing their own version of the Lin Woods saga by labelling any new voting regulation as “suppression” or of being the spiritual successors of the Jim Crow laws.

This is heavily damaging for the health of the Republic, how can we govern this country if we cannot even agree on the way we count our votes? Trump has played a big role in diminishing the trust in the electoral system, but Democrats comparing a state requesting ID to vote as a new Jim Crow law also gives a heavy blow on the integrity of the system on the long term.

There is no way the American system, already bruised, can survive if we go down this rabbit hole.

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