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Cut to Early Voting Decreases Access to the
Polls and Weakens Georgia’s Democracy
Atlanta, GA, February 25, 2014—A broad and diverse coalition of voting rights and pro-democracy organizations is demanding that the Georgia legislature reject HB 891, a bill that would sharply reduce the early voting days in Georgia municipalities from 21 to, incredibly, just 6 days, recognizing the bill as “a frontal assault on the great American democratic process.” Just three years ago, the legislature reduced the early voting period for all elections in Georgia from 45 days to 21 days.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), League of Women Voters of Georgia (LWVGA), the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, ACLU Foundation of Georgia, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO), Asian American Legal Advocacy Center (AALAC), Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Southern Region, Southern Christian Leadership Conference Georgia Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, Inc., Georgia Women’s Actions for New Directions (WAND), Rainbow PUSH Coalition, African American Ministers in Action, Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, Peacemaking and Justice Committee of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Peacemaking Partnership, Georgia Coalition of Black Women, Georgia Women for a Change, Inc., Georgia Equality/Equality Foundation of Georgia, Georgia Rural Urban Summit, and many others are urging the legislature to reject this anti-voting bill.
LDF wrote a letter on behalf of these groups earlier this month urging the Georgia legislature to oppose HB 891. In part because of that advocacy, an amendment to allow larger cities, like Atlanta, to opt-in to the existing early voting period of 21 days is now being considered.
Early voting, the groups argue, gives every voter an additional opportunity to fit the important act of voting into their busy schedules, reduces the crush of voters on Election Day, makes the entire voting process more efficient, and reduces the cost and long lines at the polls on Election Day. No voter should have to wait more than one hour to vote.
“We oppose HB 891 because, as experience shows, early voting periods provide opportunities to vote outside of the traditional Election Day, accounting for work and family obligations, transportation limitations, and the other life realities of voters of color and the working and poor,” says Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel with the Political Participation Group of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957.
Alice Kim, AALAC’s Director of Civic Engagement added, “AALAC has been working closely with several municipalities and in all of our meetings, city councilmen and mayors expressed a desire to see more – not fewer – citizens voting and participating in government leadership.”
“Early voting not only gives more voters the opportunity to cast a ballot, it allows elections officials to identify and correct problems in all aspects of the voting process, from voter registration to voting systems malfunctions,” said Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Jerry Gonzalez, Executive Director of GALEO said, “Local elections matter and local municipalities should work to make voting easier for voters rather than making it more difficult and providing fewer options.”
“Voting is the cornerstone of democracy and we seek to promote legislation that will make voting as easy and accessible as possible. Compromising the ease by which we all vote is only compromising our democratic principles,” stated Chad Brock, Staff Attorney/Legislative Counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Georgia.
In an astonishing move last week, the House Governmental Affairs Committee of the Georgia legislature refused to hear testimony from organizations that opposed the bill and were present at the hearing. “This legislature and this bill threaten to silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in Georgia – the poor, the elderly, racial and ethnic minorities, the young and the disabled. Now is the time to act. We must work together to defeat this unjust and prejudicial bill and implement new laws that will lower the barriers to voting and ensure that every eligible citizen will have the ability to vote and have their votes counted,” concluded Elizabeth Poythress, president of the League of Women Voters of Georgia.
Since its founding in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957, has been a pioneer in the struggle to secure and protect the voting rights of Black and other people of color, including successfully challenging Florida’s attempt to drastically cut in half the number of early voting days available before the 2012 elections.