What is HB531? HB531 is a voting suppression bill that was dropped unexpectedly last Thursday at the Georgia State Capitol. There was no advance notice of this bill and it was dropped just a few hours before the first hearing. Legislators tried to eliminate public comment completely, but word got out and by the 2nd hearing on Friday morning hundreds of phone calls had been made and 48 people intending on speaking against the bill, showed up. Even the Republicans who dropped the bill said that this bill is meant to appease the far-right base in Georgia who still think the Presidential election was stolen. But many of these Republicans are the same ones that said there was NO widespread fraud in that election OR the Senate runoff.
This bill is 48 pages long and contains, but is not limited to, the following suppressive tactics:
Significantly shorten the number of early voting days including eliminating some Saturday and ALL Sunday voting.
Eliminate no excuse absentee voting.
Eliminate absentee ballot drop boxes.
Allow precinct locations to be changed without notice.
Eliminate private grants to local boards for election purposes which means the county governments will have to come up with the extra $$ to run elections (I am unsure the amount of grant money that Fannin County has received, but the state of Georgia received $90 Million in no strings attached grants).
Cut the number of voting machines required at voting locations.
In total, there are 31 different changes to our voting laws that will suppress our ability to vote.
What can I do? First: Call and/or e-mail David Ralston: 404-656-5020; email@example.com
Here’s an idea of what to say/write: “My name is [Your Name] and I live in Fannin County. I believe that our democracy depends on all Georgians having a voice, and that can’t happen if our legislators continue to shut us out of the legislative process and pass bills that would undermine our right to vote. When House Bill 531 comes to the Rules Committee, please vote against it and publicize the process so Georgians can participate. Please do not support HB 531. This is purely voter suppression, that will hurt all voters in Georgia, not just Democrats. There was no fraud in our 2020 elections and this bill will do nothing but keep people from voting which is our constitutional right!
Next: Call and/or email Jamie Hensley, Fannin County Commission Chair: 706-632-2203; firstname.lastname@example.org
He will not like this bill because it will be very costly and the COUNTY will have to come up with the to cover the extra costs.
Here’s an idea of what to say/write: “My name is [Your Name] and I live in Fannin County. Are you aware of the voting bill being pushed through in our state House, HB 531? Not only will it make it harder for ALL people to vote in Georgia through multiple voter suppression tactics, but it will leave Millions of dollars in grants on the table which counties used to support the last election. That means that county commissions will have to come up with the money to pay for hiring and training of poll workers, extra hours when there is a run-off or a re-count, and extra expenses for new ballots. Please get a copy of this bill (it is 48 pages long but I can send you a list of the major points in it) and then tell your state representatives NO to HB 531.”
Finally: Call and/or e-mail the Chair and Vice Chairman of the Rules Committee that are pushing this bill.
1. Chairman Richard Smith: 404-656-5141; email@example.com
2. Vice-Chairman Matt Hatchett: 404-656-5025; firstname.lastname@example.org
Here’s an idea of what to say: “My name is [Your Name] and I live in Fannin County. I believe that our democracy depends on all Georgians having a voice, and that can’t happen if our legislators continue to shut us out of the legislative process and pass bills that would undermine our right to vote. When House Bill 531 comes to the Rules Committee, please vote against it and publicize the process so Georgians can participate.”
The following talking points were sent to us by Hillary Holley of Fair Fight. They are asking all of us TO TAKE ACTION, so please refer to some of these important points when speaking to your representatives.
● HB 531 would eliminate Sunday voting, which in 2020 was used by 71,764 of Georgia voters - 36.7% of whom are Black voters. Black voters made up 36.4% of the voters on the days that Barry Fleming wants to eliminate.
● In the 2020 general election, of the over 2.5 million Georgians who voted early in person, 9.9%, or over 250,000, voted on a weekend - these voters would face new restrictions under HB 531. 13% of AAPI voters who voted early and 11.8% of Black voters who voted early cast their ballots during weekend voting.
● 66,159 voted on the Saturday that would be eliminated by HB 531’s reduction of weekend voting, and 136,218 voted on Columbus Day, which would also be eliminated under HB 531. ● In the 2020 general election, in 107 out of 159 Georgia counties, Black Georgians were more likely than white Georgians to vote on weekends instead of during the week - 11.8% of Black voters compared to only 8.6% of white voters. HB 531’s proposed elimination of Sunday voting and restriction of weekend voting would disproportionately and discriminatorily harm Black voters.
● HB 531 would ban and criminalize offering food or water to voters. In 2020, voters faced hours-long wait times - some so long in summer temperatures and November voting lines that voters fainted, collapsed, and required medical attention. Line warming helps voters stay comfortable while waiting to vote, and banning it harms Georgia voters.
● Under HB 531, only provisional ballots cast in the correct precinct will be counted. This will significantly increase ballot rejections, and is a departure from existing practice - potentially costing many voters their right to vote.
● HB 531 adds new photo ID requirements to vote by mail - requiring a copy of photo ID on the application if a voter has no driver’s license. This not only impacts voters who do not have a photo ID (disproportionately Black and brown voters) or access to a copier or printer to submit their ID, it also puts voters at increased risk of identity theft.
● After the 2020 election cycle saw historically high use of mail voting, HB 531 proposes dramatically reduced timeframes for applying and mailing of mail ballots. It reduces the period to apply for an absentee ballot from 180 days by over half, to a maximum of only 78 days, and sets a minimum application deadline of 11 days before Election Day. Talking Points for Volunteers calling state legislators:
● HB 531 would severely restrict voting rights in Georgia and hurt Georgia voters. These restrictions are dangerous, unnecessary, and disenfranchising.
● The rushed process of filing and hearing HB 531 cut Georgians out, and it’s outrageous to push a bill like this so quickly without a chance for the public to know, see, or comment on it. ● This bill has been rushed through without scrutiny or review, and without time for legislators to properly read it or consider its implications.
● Any consideration of this bill must slow the process - HB 531 would dramatically change many parts of our elections and voting process, and must be reviewed carefully to understand the legal ramifications of these changes.
● HB 531 is seeking to fix nonexistent problems, and in many cases creates entirely new problems itself. The 2020 election saw historic participation; trying to restrict voting and access to voting now is patently transparent and unacceptable.
● Any bill to significantly change elections in our state, like HB 531, must involve careful and bipartisan discussion and cooperation, which this bill does not. Democratic legislators were shut out of the process, and even many Republicans were blindsided by this bill, which was drafted without consultation or consideration from wider membership.
● Bills to change our voting laws should be made by consulting with voting rights advocates to ensure that new changes to not harm voters - something that was not done with HB 531. As a result, this surprise bill is harmful to Georgians.
Talking Points for Volunteers Calling County Elected Officials:
● HB 531 contains provisions that would pass on significant unfunded mandates to our counties and put strain on local governments that would now be faced with increased costs. ● It is important that unfunded mandates and new costs for counties be taken into account when passing legislation - many counties already faced budgetary difficulties in the 2020 election season, and this would only exacerbate those problems.
● Legislators must work with county officials when drafting legislation, particularly bills like HB 531 that impact our counties so dramatically. This bill did not. To shut county elections officials out of this process is unacceptable and only makes their jobs more difficult.
Organizations Talking Points While Talking to Press:
● Voting advocates, the public, and even legislators were blindsided by this bill, and it is outrageous that they have been given so little time to review and consider it. This is a deliberate choice by Rep. Barry Fleming to avoid scrutiny of HB 531 and a shameless attempt to rush it through committee without an actual evaluation of its impact on Georgians and legal implications.
● If HB 531 is to be taken seriously at all, the process must slow down so that Georgians, advocates, and state legislators can properly read and understand it. This means taking the time to include public input, hold hearings, and listen to voting rights experts.
● HB 531 is a large and wide-reaching bill - it is 48 pages long and makes changes to nearly every aspect of Georgia’s election system. It must be reviewed seriously and its impacts must be fully considered and made public, so that everyone impacted can truly understand what is at stake.