Board of Elections Customer Service Supervisor Sabrina German hands out absentee ballots during early voting Oct. 23, 2008 in Savannah, Ga.
Photo by Stephen Morton/Getty

In voting rights win, bill to cut Georgia early voting is dead

A Republican bid to cut early voting in Georgia – which was slashed once already not long ago – failed last week after voting rights activists mobilized against it.

A measure that would have cut the maximum number of early voting days that counties could offer from 21 days to 12 passed a House committee in February, and its prospects for passage in Georgia’s GOP-controlled legislature looked good. It would have left only one weekend of early voting, and just four hours on Sunday.

But when the state’s legislative session ended Thursday, the bill hadn’t received a full house vote. That means its supporters would have to start from square one when the legislature reconvenes, or tack the cuts on to a different measure.

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The effort’s apparent demise came after feverish organizing by a broad coalition of voting rights, civil rights, good government, and Democratic groups.

“Many thanks to you for your efforts, using your voice and that of your networks to bring attention to the issue and for expressing your support to your representatives for early voting opportunities as Georgians,” Leah Aden, an assistant counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund wrote in an email sent Friday to fellow activists.

Supporters of the failed bill had painted it as a simple effort to ensure uniformity of access to early voting among counties. For some rural counties, offering the full 21 days of early voting doesn’t make financial sense. But in several more populous counties, the expanded access is popular. Last fall, 44% of Georgians—disproportionately minorities—voted early.

Republicans already had cut early voting from 45 days down to 21 back in 2011—a change that was approved by the Obama Justice Department, which until the 2013 Shelby County case had veto power over changes Georgia’s election rules.

But with the state’s demographics shifting rapidly—whites will be a minority a decade from now, according to a recent projection—access to the ballot for blacks and Hispanics has continued to be a hot-button issue. Last fall, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, was accused of failing to process around 40,000 new voter registration applications, after an aggressive registration drive in minority areas. And one Republican legislator complained that a new early voting site had been placed in a mall that’s popular with African-Americans. After an outcry, the legislator, Rep. Fran Millar, clarified that he simply “would prefer more educated voters.”

The bill’s failure is the second big state-level win for voting rights in as many weeks. Last week, Ohio governor John Kasich vetoed language that would likely have discouraged many out-of-state students and others to register and vote.