HB 891 by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) would cut early voting from 21 days to six at the request of small cities. They want relief from paying poll workers for days when few if any advance voters show up, according to Tom Gehl, lobbyist for the Georgia Municipal Association which supports the measure. Keeping the polls open “can be really expensive,” Gehl told the Athens Banner-Herald.
“It does not change anyone’s ability to vote,” said Rep. Fleming, an Augusta attorney and member of the audit committee of the board of Georgia Regents University. If a voter has only six days to vote in advance versus 21 days, how does that not change his ability to vote?
The bill, which cleared a House committee last week, is opposed by a coalition including the League of Women Voters of Georgia, ACLU, NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and Georgia Coalition of Black Women. They were among 18 groups signing a letter to the House Governmental Affairs Committee opposing HB 891.
Opponents point out that the bill was passed out of a subcommittee Feb. 11, a day after Gov. Nathan Deal extended a state of emergency for Fulton and 44 other counties ahead of the ice storm that paralyzed much of Georgia. If HB 891’s six-day advance voting had been in effect, how many voters would have been out of luck?
“This bill would be a giant step backwards for the election process in Georgia,” said Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters. “It is an obvious attempt to limit voting and a clear byproduct of the controversial Supreme Court decision to eliminate prior approval of changes to election laws in Georgia under the Voting Rights Act.” She said the bill amounts to “taking away voting rights of Georgians in the name of money!”
The latest move to curtail advance voting comes only three years after the Republican-controlled General Assembly cut early voting in Georgia elections from 45 days to 21 days. Granted, 45 days might have been a tad longer than necessary but that’s not the case with the 21-day window. And why is this suddenly a big issue now after small towns made it through the Great Recession elections?
Although HB 891 purportedly is aimed at helping small cities, the bill says nothing about the size of cities. It applies to “advance voting for municipal elections.” Period. That’s one problem. Then there’s the problem of cutting advance voting to less than a week in cities. To say the least, facts and figures are needed: How many small cities are we talking about? Two or three or more? This can’t be a big enough problem to change the law for all cities in Georgia.
Whatever the problem, HB 891 is not the solution.