The Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday passed a sweeping bill to limit voting access in the state, clearing a major hurdle in the Republican-led effort to rewrite many of the state’s voting regulations after the 2020 election.
The bill imposes stricter voter identification requirements, limits drop boxes, strips the secretary of state of some authority, imposes new oversight of county election boards, restricts who can vote with provisional ballots, and makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines.
However, the bill did not include some of the harshest restrictions that had been introduced in its earlier versions, like a ban on Sunday voting that had been seen as an attempt to curtail the role of Black churches in driving turnout. And the bill now, in fact, expands early voting options in some areas. No-excuse absentee voting, in which voters do not have to provide a rationale for casting a ballot by mail, also remains in place, though new restrictions such as providing a state-issued identification card have been placed on the process.
While the passage of the bill in the House, in a 100-to-75 vote along party lines, was a major step toward the desk of Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, it still needs to go back to the State Senate for what is known as an “agreement” vote on the amendments added in the House.
The legislation was approved after an impassioned debate on the floor that lasted for just over an hour.
Erica Thomas, a Democratic state representative from outside Atlanta, recalled the memory of former Representative John Lewis of Georgia, the civil rights leader who died last year, opening her remarks by quoting an old speech of his before voicing her personal opposition.
“Why do we rally, why do we protest voter suppression?” she said. “It is because our ancestors are looking down right now on this House floor, praying and believing that our fight, and that their fight, was not in vain. We call on the strength of Congressman John Lewis in this moment. Because right now, history is watching.”
Other Democrats said the bill was rooted in the lies and falsehoods about the 2020 election that have been spread by former President Donald J. Trump and his allies.
“Where is the need for this bill coming from?” said Debbie Buckner, a Democratic representative from near Columbus. “From the former president who wanted the election fixed and thrown out, even when Georgia leadership told him they couldn’t do it if they wanted to.”
Representative Zulma Lopez, whose district on the outskirts of Atlanta contains a majority of voters of color, said the bill would have an outsize impact on voters of color. In her district, she said, the number of drop boxes would be reduced to nine from 33. This was partly the result, she said, of Democrats’ being excluded from discussions.
“Close to 2.5 million Democrats voted in the general election in 2020,” Ms. Lopez said. “Yet Democrats in this House were left out of any meaningful input into the drafting of this bill.”
On Thursday, President Biden joined Georgia Democrats in denouncing Republican efforts to limit voting, calling conservatives’ efforts around the country “un-American.”
“I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing,” Mr. Biden said at his first formal news conference. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic, what they’re trying to do. And it cannot be sustained.”
He vowed to “do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from becoming the law.”
Alan Powell, a Republican representative from northeast Georgia, defended the state’s bill, saying it would bring needed uniformity to an electoral system that was pushed to the brink last year.
“The Georgia election system was never made to be able to handle the volume of votes that it handled,” he said. (Multiple audits affirmed the results of Georgia’s elections last year, and there were no credible reports of any fraud or irregularities that would have affected the results.) “What we’ve done in this bill in front of you is we have cleaned up the workings, the mechanics of our election system.”
“Show me the suppression,” Mr. Powell said. “There is no suppression in this bill.”
Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.“