Georgia GOP Declared 'Open Season' On Black Voting Rights, Rep. Hank Johnson Says

Georgia Democrats say state-level Republicans are furiously introducing strict new voting legislation, much of which critics say is intended to reduce the record Black turnout which elevated President Joe Biden in November.

Representative Hank Johnson of Atlanta is among several House Democrats who are accusing Georgia Republicans of introducing new "voter integrity" bills which aim to end traditional get-out-the-vote campaigns in Black communities. Republicans, who control both chambers of the state General Assembly and the governor's office, proposed a bill last week which would eliminate early voting on Sundays — a move Black church leaders say is aimed squarely at their recent efforts to boost voter turnout. Driving all-time record turnout in minority communities across the state, more than 4 million Georgia voters cast early or absentee ballots in the 2020 general election.

One Republican who was ousted in part by Georgia voter turnout efforts, former Senator Kelly Loeffler, announced Monday she is starting a rival voting rights group which seeks to counter-act Abrams. Loeffler and her fellow GOP incumbent, former Georgia Senator David Perdue, were both defeated by Democrats in January 2021.

"If left to their own devices, Republicans will try to limit the ability of minority voters to exercise their fundamental right to vote," said Johnson, a Georgia Democrat who co-sponsored a federal election standards bill which Republicans have labeled "overreach."

The proposed House bill which is set for a vote next week would require early voting time periods in states like Georgia and would force districts with a history of racial discrimination to report any voting law changes to federal officials first.

Republicans in the Georgia House's Special Committee on Election Integrity introduced several pieces of legislation which would create sweeping changes in state voting requirements. GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who was scorned by former President Donald Trump for not helping him overturn the November election, has said he supports photo ID requirements for absentee ballots.

But dozens of recently filed GOP bills would limit the time absentee ballots can be requested and would create several new hurdles for mail-in voting — a method used in massive numbers last November by Black voters.

"It's open season on voting rights in Georgia," Johnson told the Associated Press Tuesday.

"It's a new form of voter suppression, the Klan in three-piece suits rather than white hoods," said the Rev. Timothy McDonald III of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, which has participated in souls to the polls events. "They know the power of the Black vote, and their goal is to suppress that power," McDonald told the AP.

Black church leaders dismissed Georgia Republicans like state Rep. Barry Fleming who have described the legislation as "an attempt to restore the confidence in our election system." The GOP bills which would restrict voter access on Sundays is a blatant attack on Black churches, some pastors told the AP.

"It's a new form of voter suppression, the Klan in three-piece suits rather than white hoods," said the Rev. Timothy McDonald III of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta. "They know the power of the Black vote, and their goal is to suppress that power."

georgia republicans black voting rights
A member of the Georgia delegation walks out with their delegation placard after the vote on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center on August 24, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The four-day event is themed "Honoring the Great American Story." CHRIS CARLSON / Staff/Getty Images

For more on this story, read additional reporting from the Associated Press below.

Biden beat former President Donald Trump by roughly 12,000 votes, becoming the first Democrat to win a presidential contest in Georgia since 1992. Biden received nearly double the number of absentee votes as Trump in a state that became a major target of Trump's baseless claims of fraud. Biden's win there was confirmed in three separate counts, including one by hand.

"These measures, in our opinion, are not based on any objective, data-driven, evidence-based assessment of the issue but solely with the intention to undermine Black voters and other communities of concern," said Democratic state Rep. Michael Smith, chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus Policy Committee.

Republicans are trying to limit ways to vote that have been wildly popular. After states expanded access to mail-in and early voting during the coronavirus pandemic, nearly 70 percent of all ballots cast nationwide came before Election Day.