Trust Index: Is GOP-backed Georgia election legislation an attempt at voter suppression?

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, a poll worker talks to a voter before they vote on a paper ballot on Election Day in Atlanta. The sweeping rewrite of Georgia's election rules that was signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp Thursday, March 25, 2021, represents the first big set of changes since former President Donald Trump's repeated, baseless claims of fraud following his presidential loss to Joe Biden. Georgias new, 98-page law makes numerous changes to how elections will be administered, including a new photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

Does Georgia’s Republican-sponsored election bill make the state’s voting process more secure, or is an attempt, as some Democrats claim, to suppress votes during an election?

It’s a question on the minds of many people after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the 98 page legislation. The overhaul includes new restrictions on voting by mail and gives the legislature greater control over how elections are run.

READ: Full 98-page Election Integrity Act of 2021

Over the weekend, Kemp criticized Major League Baseball over its decision to move its All-Star Game from Georgia over the sweeping voting bill. He said the League’s decision was an example of “cancel culture.”

“If we were making it less easy to vote or harder to cheat, than maybe there’s an argument for boycotts and protests and moving All-Star games. But that is not what happened,” Kemp said Saturday.

Kemp says the legislation expands access to the polls and ensures integrity at the ballot box. Some opponents call it a blatant attack on voting rights, specifically aimed at suppressing the minority vote.

One of the major changes in the bill: New ID requirements for Georgians who cast their ballots by mail, requiring them to provide picture identification instead of using the signature match process used in Florida.

News4Jax spoke with Jerry Holland, the former Duval County supervisor of elections, about the legislation.

“Could easily said to be more secure. I can also see it to be a hassle to the voter, from having to go get a copy and not send the original,” Holland said.

Instead of sending absentee ballot applications to every registered voter in Georgia like the state did in 2020 due to the pandemic, under the new law, applications are only sent to people who request them.

And instead of counties sending out absentee ballots 49 days before the election, they have to wait until 29 days before the election.

The legislation also prohibits food and water being handed out to people standing in line to vote.

″What this is trying to do is make sure there is no influence going on at the polls, whether it’s water, getting something to eat or something to drink,” Holland said.

Holland points out that election officials can set up water stations if they choose to, but others like Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Georgia, still disagree with the change, saying that making it a misdemeanor to pass out food and water at the polls will discourage people from wanting to stand in line to vote.

“This is voter suppression pure and simple,” Warnock said. “These are politicians so focused on staying in power that they will do anything to maintain their power.”

The new law adds an additional day of early voting, requiring at least two Saturdays of early voting for each primary and general election. For precincts where voters spend more than an hour in line, election officials must either split up the precinct or add more staff or voting equipment for the next election to reduce wait times.

The law increases the amount of drop boxes in rural areas and gives state lawmakers more power over county and local elections, giving the general assembly the power to select the chair of the State Election Board instead of it being led by the secretary of state.

EXPLAINER: What does Georgia’s new GOP election law do?

Holland says the timing of the legislation -- right after Donald Trump lost the election -- is playing a role in how the legislation is being perceived.

″The perception is, obviously, if you lose the election, lose the House and the Senate, you change the voting laws, you must be doing something wrong,” Holland said. “But I think in many ways it improved there’s.”

So, to the claim that the Republican-backed election legislation is an attempt at voter suppression -- the News4Jax Trust Index team gives this a “Be Careful.”

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