Legislation that would alter Georgia’s voting laws is moving its way through the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
House Bill 531 has passed the Georgia House, but Rep. Calvin Smyre (D) Columbus, and Richard Smith (R) Columbus, say it’s a long way from becoming law. It still must pass the Senate, where there are likely to be changes. Then the differences will have to be worked out in a conference committee made up of members of both chambers.
The bill would require a photo ID for absentee voting, limit the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot, restrict where ballot drop boxes could be located and when they could be accessed, and limit early voting hours on weekends, among other changes.
With 13 legislative days remining, this is a politically divisive and explosive topic and the lawmakers are hearing from all sides.
“If you could just read some of the emails I get, and text messages I have received and phone calls that I received, there’s a lot of people out there that are really concerned about how our voting is,” Smith said.
Smyre is getting the calls, too.
“I am getting the pros and the cons,” Smyre said. “And I have gotten more emails on this piece of legislation. I have never gotten more emails on anything other than changing the state flag.”
The two Columbus-area Republicans, Smith and Rep. Vance Smith, voted for the bill. The three local Democrats, Smyre, Rep. Carolyn Hugley and Rep. Debbie Buckner voted against it.
Smyre and Smith are clearly on opposite sides of this controversial debate, but both could have input on the final product. Smith is chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee and Smyre was the first Democrat to speak in opposition of the bill when it came up for a vote on Monday.
“I think that it is definitely not good,” Smyre said. “I think that House Bill 531 is a major step in the wrong direction. I think we need to deal with all the narrative we have had dealing with the election and surrounding the election. I think 531 sends the wrong message in Georgia and I think it sends the wrong message in the nation.”
Smith said changes to the way Georgians vote need to be made. This comes after Democrats captured two U.S. Senate seats from Republican incumbents in the 2020 elections.
“Sometimes in order to make things better you don’t have to do it because of supposedly fraud,” Smith said. “What about people standing in line and what about people feeling secure that their ballots will be counted and gotten in.”