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HB-891: Ga. Republicans attempt to dramatically reduce early voting--again

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On Wednesday, February 26, Georgia Republicans got closer to reducing early voting for a second time in three years with the passage of HB-891 in the Georgia House.

Under the premise of 'saving money', there is an effort to reduce early voting to six days. Four years ago, the early voting period was forty-five days, but was reduced in 2011 to 21 days.

Voting rights and pro-democracy organizations have voiced opposition and attempted to persuade the Republican-dominated General Assembly to reject HB 891.

An amended version of House Bill 891 gives city officials in the state of Georgia the option of deciding whether to have one week of early voting before an election or keeping the early voting period at three weeks.

The NAACP and other agencies have opposed the legislation, maintaining it could infringe on some people's voting rights.

“We oppose HB 891 because, as experience shows, early voting periods provide opportunities to vote outside of the traditional Election Day, accounting for work and family obligations, transportation limitations, and the other life realities of voters of color and the working and poor,” says Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel with the Political Participation Group of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957.

Houston County NAACP President Larry Holmes told Macon's WMAZ-TV that saving money doesn't justify hampering voting rights.

"I believe if something's not broken then we shouldn't be trying to fix it," Holmes said. "It would be a disadvantage. It's gonna cause a lot of people heartache if they cut down on the days. The lines would be longer and everything like that. To me it's something we shouldn't be bothered with. There's nothing wrong with what we have now."

The proposal, which now gives city officials the right to chose a three week or one week early voting period, applies only to municipal elections, and that's only when the city elections don't coincide with county, state and federal elections.

Cities such as Roberta, Gray, Forsyth Warner Robins, Dublin, Milledgeville, and Perry would be affected, but the newly consolidated Macon-Bibb government would not.

Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO said, “Local elections matter and local municipalities should work to make voting easier for voters rather than making it more difficult and providing fewer options.”

“Voting is the cornerstone of democracy and we seek to promote legislation that will make voting as easy and accessible as possible. Compromising the ease by which we all vote is only compromising our democratic principles,” stated Chad Brock, Staff Attorney/Legislative Counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Georgia.

Last week, the House Governmental Affairs Committee of the Georgia General Assembly did not allow testimony from organizations that opposed the bill and were present at the hearing.

Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia said the following:

“This legislature and this bill threaten to silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in Georgia – the poor, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, the young and the disabled. Now is the time to act. We must work together to defeat this unjust and prejudicial bill and implement new laws that will lower the barriers to voting and ensure that every eligible citizen will have the ability to vote and have their votes counted.”