Georgia state lawmakers approve new restrictions on voting

FILE PHOTO: Kimberly Latrice Jones speaks during a gathering outside of the Georgia State Capitol to protest HB 531, which would place tougher restrictions on voting in Georgia, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Dustin Chambers/File Photo

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Georgia’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill on Thursday that would impose new restrictions on voting in the state that helped Democrats win the White House and narrow control of the U.S. Senate.

Republicans say the measure, approved in a 100-75 vote, would make voting more secure. Democrats and voting rights activists decry it as among the most damaging attempts to limiting access to the ballot box in the country.

The 94-page bill would add a new ID requirement for absentee ballots; limit ballot drop boxes, including eliminating them on the last four days of an election; and make it a misdemeanor crime to give food or drinks to voters waiting in long lines.

It also would also set up a fraud hotline, forbid local county elections offices from taking any breaks while counting ballots and shorten the runoff election cycle from nine weeks to four weeks.

Early versions of the bill sought to limit Sunday voting, a provision that would have curtailed traditional “Souls to the Polls” voter turnout programs popular in Black churches. Those days were restored after Democrats pushed back, and additional Saturday voting days also were included.

The bill must now be reconciled with a similar measure in the state Senate before it goes before Republican Governor Brian Kemp for his consideration.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

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