UPDATE: The legislation died in Georgia’s Senate Rules Committee when the full chamber did not bring it up for a vote on Friday, the last day of the legislative session.
Georgia Republicans are advancing a bill through the state legislature that would suppress African-American turnout by eliminating Sunday voting and cutting the hours that polls are open in Atlanta.
The bill, SB 363, would force polls in the majority African
The proposal passed the state House Governmental Affairs Committee Wednesday with the majority Republicans voting in favor and all five Democrats, who have said the legislation is designed to suppress voter turnout, in opposition.
The text of the bill limits voting to just one weekend day before an election, but under current state law, any election with state or federal candidates must allow voting on a Saturday, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Georgia Republicans have opposed Sunday voting since at least 2014, when DeKalb County (home to Atlanta) extended early voting to include the Sunday before Election Day. One polling location that year was at a popular local shopping mall.
“This location is dominated by African-American shoppers and it is near several large African-American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist, ” state Sen. Fran Millar (R) wrote candidly at the time, denigrating the relative ease of voting on Sundays as “Chicago politics” in DeKalb County. “Is it possible church buses will be used to transport people directly to the mall since the poll will open when the mall opens? If this happens, so much for the accepted principle of separation of church and state.”
After pushback, Millar didn’t back away from his comments, instead writing on his Facebook page that Sunday voting “is a partisan stunt and I hope it can be stopped.”
But it wasn’t until this year, after the GOP lost a special election in Atlanta, that the party decided to take action to limit Sunday voting — and by extension, African-American turnout. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, State Sen. Matt Brass (R) filed the bill after Sen. Jen Jordan (D) won a special election in a district that covers both Atlanta and Cobb County. Republicans claimed it was unfair that some voters had an hour longer to vote than others. Under a current state law passed in the 1970s, Atlanta is required to keep its polls open until 8 p.m. for city elections.
But instead of attempting to extend voting hours in counties that close at 7 p.m., GOP lawmakers decided to target Atlanta.
“One person should not be allowed to vote one hour longer than another person,” Brass said.
The House Governmental Affairs Committee added the provision to eliminate Sunday voting to the same bill after it passed the Senate last month. State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D), one of five Democrats on the committee, called the bill “anti-voting rights.”
If this legislation does pass and Republicans continue to be overt about their intention to suppress black voters, the bill would violate the U.S. Constitution. Democrats and voting advocates are also likely to raise objections under the Voting Rights Act, although the U.S. Supreme Court significantly weakened the power of that landmark legislation in 2013 when it ruled that states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination, like Georgia, no longer need to preclear changes to their voting law with the Department of Justice.
Georgia isn’t the only state in which Republicans have made efforts to curb black voting. While voter ID laws, cuts to early voting, and the elimination of same-day registration all have disproportionate impacts on voters of color, GOP lawmakers have gotten even more creative in recent years. In 2015, Alabama announced a plan to close 31 driver’s license offices mostly in rural, poor, and majority-black counties, making it more difficult for voters to obtain the ID necessary to cast a ballot under state law. But after that proposal drew controversy, then-Gov. Robert Bentley (R) reversed course and decided to reopen the DMVs in all 31 counties.