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Gov. Kemp signs controversial GOP elections bill into law

SB 202 is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced across the country after the November election.

ATLANTA — Lawmakers in Georgia have given final passage to legislation brought by Republicans that could lead to a sweeping overhaul of state election law. The Republican bill passed over the protests of critics who gathered Thursday outside the capitol - as they have done for much of the last two months. They contend the bill rolls back voting rights and is rooted in former president Trump’s false contention the 2020 election was stolen.

Republicans said state election law was overdue to get an overhaul, irrespective of the 2020 election. 

“One of the things we looked at is a system that’s broke,” said state Rep. Alan Powell (R-Hartwell) during debate in the House.

The law places new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative oversight of elections. Powell said the huge influx of absentee ballots in the 2020 election revealed an election system that needs to be changed. 

“The Georgia election system was never intended to be able to handle the volume of votes that it handled,” Powell said.

But Democrats contend the system actually worked, that the allegations of voter fraud floated mostly by former President Trump were investigated and refuted. 

“Because folks voted, calls from Mar-a-Lago now dictates what Georgia does,” said state Rep. Al Williams (D-Liberty County).

The 95-page bill:

  • Requires an ID number, like a driver’s license, to apply for an absentee ballot
  • Cuts off absentee ballot applications 11 days before an election
  • Limits the number of absentee ballot drop boxes
  • Allows the state to take control of what it calls “underperforming” local election systems
  • Disallows volunteers from giving away food and drink to voters waiting in lines

Opponents contended the bill’s restrictions will mostly impact urban counties with more Democrats.

“Let’s be clear what this does: This is a partisan power grab done in response to their electoral defeat in 2020 election cycle,” said state Rep. Carolyn Hugley (D-Columbus).

The debate took place as opponents staged another in a series of protests outside the capitol. Although Republicans backed away from eliminating no-excuse absentee voting and eliminating Sunday voting, Democrats voted as a bloc against the watered-down bills anyway. 

“It was a terrible day and a bunch of lies that were told,” said state Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon), the House Democratic leader. “But at the end of the day, we’re consistent we’re caring and we’re hopeful.”

“I think it’s a very fair bill,” House speaker Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) countered. “I think it takes a huge step to maximize participation in our voting process, to maximize accessibility and integrity in our election process.”

The House passed the measure on a party-line vote. Late Thursday, the Senate passed same measure on a party-line vote. Gov. Brian Kemp signed the measure before nightfall. His office tweeted this picture of the signing.

Credit: Gov. Brian Kemp

The legislation is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states across the country after former President Donald Trump stoked false claims about fraud.

The signing drew immediate, intense reaction from critics.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms called the bill "divisive" and "unnecessary" and said it was "designed to suppress voter turnout."

Georgia representative Park Cannon was also arrested at the state capitol after she knocked on the door to the governor's office while he was delivering his remarks post-signing. Cannon is a Democrat representing East Atlanta. 

Video by 11Alive photojournalist Pete Smith showed Rep. Park Cannon standing outside of the governor's ceremonial office - where he was delivering those remarks - knocking on the door. 

According to a narrative from the Georgia State Patrol, Cannon was told by officers to stop knocking on the door because of the press conference going on inside, and that if she wouldn't, she would be placed under arrest for obstruction. 

After an exchange of words, and another attempt by Cannon to knock on the door, video shows officers told her she was under arrest. Video then shows her being taken out of the Capitol. She was later brought to the Union City Jail - an overflow facility from the Fulton County Jail - and charged with obstruction of law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings, according to GSP.

Material from the Associated Press appears in this report.