LDF is pleased that the Georgia Legislature, in a significant move, failed to pass HB 891, a bill that would have reduced drastically early voting in city and town elections from 21 to, incredibly, just 6 days. Just three years ago, the legislature reduced the early voting period for all elections in Georgia from 45 days to 21 days.
“Today is an important victory for Georgia’s democracy,” said Ryan P. Haygood, the Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group, a separate entity from the NAACP since 1957. “HB 891 would have adversely impacted a substantial number of Black voters in Georgia, 35 percent of whom voted during the early voting period in 2012. Georgia should be creating and protecting greater access to the ballot box, not less. Rejection of HB 891 is an important step in that direction.”
In February, LDF wrote a letter on behalf of a broad and diverse coalition of twenty voting rights and pro-democracy organizations urging the Georgia legislature to reject HB 891. Those groups included: Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Southern Region; the League of Women Voters of Georgia; the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP; Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials; Asian American Legal Advocacy Center; ACLU Foundation of Georgia; and many other pro-voter organizations.
“LDF’s early and aggressive advocacy on this issue was pivotal in urging the Georgia legislature to reject a measure that absolutely would have been a frontal assault on access to the franchise for millions of Georgians,” said Donna Bowman, Regional Social Action Coordinator, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Southern Region.
“The importance of early voting in Georgia, particularly for communities of color, cannot be overstated,” said Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel with LDF’s Political Participation Group. “Early voting helps alleviate the burdens associated with navigating long lines on traditional Election Days, and accounts for voters’ work and family obligations, transportation limitations, and the other life realities of voters of color and the working poor by providing multiple opportunities to vote.”
HB 891 was introduced fewer than eight months after the Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder ruling, in which the U.S. Supreme Court, in a devastating opinion, declared Section 4(b), the “coverage provision” of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. By striking Section 4(b), the Supreme Court rendered ineffective Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the “preclearance provision” and a core protection against voting rights discrimination.
Before the Shelby County decision, for forty-eight years, Georgia’s voters benefited from the protections afforded by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, namely all of Georgia’s voting changes were submitted for “preclearance” to the federal government before their implementation to ensure that they were free of racial discrimination.
Prior to the Shelby County decision, LDF argued in its letter, it is not clear that the federal government would have precleared HB 891 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of the impact that its restrictions potentially would have had on voting opportunities particularly for Black and other people of color in Georgia.