In late February, Georgia Republicans revealed the contents of a 48-page omnibus bill that appears to include several efforts to limit the ability of Black voting populations to turn out the way they did for the 2020 election and the pivotal January runoff elections for both Senate seats.

Activists and experts were up in arms after combing through the bill, finding a variety of measures that seemed aimed specifically at Black voters in the state. Many highlighted the fact that the bill bans early voting on Sundays, seemingly in response to the massive turnout caused by churches that launched “Souls to the Polls” drives that brought people to polling locations after services ended. 

The bill specifically would not allow voting to occur on Sundays during the allotted three-week early voting period, instead only allowing it to occur on one Saturday ahead of an election. There are also additional rules added that restrict mail-in voting.

In a statement to Blavity, New South Super PAC Founder Nsé Ufot slammed Georgia Republicans for “launching a concerted effort to suppress the votes and voices of Black Georgians.”

“This latest attempt by Georgia Republicans to restrict the right to vote is a direct attack on our democracy. After stunning losses in the general election and January runoffs, it’s no mystery why Georgia Republicans have rushed to enact restrictions on early, absentee, and weekend voting,” Ufot told Blavity. 

“They know their only hope for winning elections is to restrict the right to vote and silence Black voices. One provision — which would ban early voting on Sundays prior to the election — is a direct attack on Black churches, Souls to the Polls, and get-out-the-vote drives that helped to ensure more Black Georgians had the opportunity to cast their ballots,” she added.

Common Cause Georgia released a statement calling the bill “Jim Crow with a suit and tie."

"Georgia’s voters deserve better than to be shut out of legislators’ discussions – particularly when those discussions involve new barriers to voting," the statement read. "Voting is the foundation of American democracy. By aiming at our ability to cast ballots, Georgia’s legislators are striking at the very core of our government. These legislators may be acting on behalf of their party interests or their political donors. They are certainly not acting on behalf of the people of Georgia."

The bill is part of a much larger wave of restrictive voter bills being pushed by state-level Republicans across the country in response to the unprecedented turnout in the 2020 election. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most states were forced to expand access to mail-in ballots, which allowed millions of new voters to participate in the election process. 

But the Brennan Center said that as of February, 33 states have “introduced, pre-filed, or carried over” 165 bills aiming to restrict voting access. These bills generally seek to limit access to mail voting, institute harsh voter ID requirements, push for more aggressive purges of voter rolls and reduce the number of opportunities for people to register to vote. 


Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, told Blavity that many of the bills are simply intended to send a message to voters but are not likely to pass.

“We are seeing a backlash to the voter turnout that was really unprecedented last year. It's impossible to disentangle this from the long history of Black voter suppression that persists to this day,” Sweren-Becker told Blavity. "The voter-suppressive policies that are being introduced in statehouses across the country are going to have a disproportionate burden on Black voters and voters of color more generally. Any time you see voter suppression efforts in this country, they always disproportionately affect Black voters."

Sweren-Becker noted that in many cases, Republican lawmakers are responding to the false narratives that were spread by former President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders about irregularities. 

“They're taking up this big lie that was advanced by the former president and others and using that lie as a justification for policies that limit voting access even though the allegations about voter fraud have been debunked time and time again by academics, studies and courts,” Sweren-Becker said. 

“There was no evidence last year to reflect that the outcome was at all affected by any fraud or irregularities. It's both a backlash to voter turnout and also a taking up the mantle of the lie of voter fraud to limit voting access,” she continued.

Sweren-Becker added that the 165 bills that have been introduced to restrict voting access are four times as many as the amount introduced at this same time last year. 

Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming are all now mulling voter ID laws. Arizona lawmakers have introduced 19 restrictive voting bills while Pennsylvania is not far behind with 14 bills that would limit access to voting. Georgia has 10 restrictive voting bills and New Hampshire has 10 of its own. 

The Brennan Center said half of all of the bills seek to rein in mail-in voting, with some seeking to make it more difficult to ask for a mail-in ballot and others that would make voters repeatedly reapply for mail-in ballots to receive them.

 

Republican lawmakers in Missouri have even submitted a bill that would explicitly remove the ability to cite fears about COVID-19 as a reason to ask for a mail-in ballot. Some states, like South Carolina and Pennsylvania, are considering signature matching bills that would allow ballots to be thrown out if officials decide signatures are “mismatched.”

A significant number of the bills demand certain IDs for voting and limit what IDs will be accepted. Others want to limit automatic voter registration or reduce the amount of time that voters have to register, according to an analysis done by experts with the Brennan Center.

It’s not all bad news though. More than 540 bills from 38 states seek to expand access to voting. Democrats at the federal level are working on two bills -- the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act -- that Sweren-Becker said would mitigate the effect of some of the most repressive state-level voting laws.

Activists on the ground have also said the turnout in 2020 was a sign that increasing access to voting would result in higher turnout numbers. 

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, told Blavity in an interview that the energy and urgency of the 2020 election was part of what drove turnout but added that accessibility would help bring the United States on par with other countries that routinely bring out more than 80% of their voting populations.

“The administration of elections should be above partisanship. That can only happen if we reform it so that access to voting is equalized across all communities in ways in which there are no questions or elections ability for individuals to manipulate the outcome,” Johnson said.

“If you look at other nations that are developed, they have put in place reforms that have resulted in more people voting so that it can be a true representative democracy. People in 2020 felt they had to vote because their lives depend on it. The most proactive thing we could do was to engage at a different level of participation,” he added.