SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – A Georgia judge recently upheld changes to the state’s voting laws, a move applauded by Peach State Republicans.
Democrats in Georgia, however, say these changes are discriminatory against the minority community.
“We should do everything we can to make it easier, not harder, for people to vote,” said Pastor Thurmond N. Tillman at First African Baptist Church.
In 2021, Georgia legislators passed Senate Bill 202, otherwise known as the Election Integrity Act, placing certain restrictions on election practices in the state.
Various advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in response, claiming the law aims to prevent them from voting.
On Wednesday, a judge ruled that the law will remain in place.
That means several major changes will also remain.
To start, organizations are not permitted to hand out provisions to those waiting in voting lines on Election Day, including food or water.
Leaders in the Black community say this change targets people of color, saying they’re worried this practice will discourage them from coming out to vote like they did in 2020.
“People stood in long lines because they would not be denied,” Tillman said. “But you could tell, if there’s not those big issues being put in the forefront, then a lot of people may feel, ‘Well, I’m not gonna go through the hassle to vote,’” the pastor said.
However, the chairman of the Chatham County Board of Elections says the policy is only meant to stop campaigning at polling places.
“You don’t want to have people that are in line getting ready to vote, and you don’t want to have people trying to influence their vote,” said Chairman Thomas Mahoney. “And so if you’re handing out gifts, things like that, to try to encourage people to vote a certain way, it becomes very difficult to police and to discern what somebody’s intent is.”
Another change: there won’t be as many ballot drop boxes.
Unlike in 2020, instead of being available 24 hours a day, they’ll be monitored at all times and stationed only indoors.
According to the judge’s ruling, that change was made due to complaints about election security.
But Tillman says that doesn’t add up.
“I’ve heard over and over again that there has been voter fraud. But there are not cases of voter fraud coming to show why these restrictions are being put in place,” he said. “So, it kind of seems obvious that there are certain demographics of people that they’re really trying to get to not vote.”
Mahoney disagrees, saying the new rules for drop boxes are technically an expansion of voting rights since they weren’t available prior to 2020.
“For the first time under Georgia law, it allowed another way to vote. That is that you could have a dropbox for your absentee votes,” he said.
“So, it was really an expansion of voting rights,” Mahoney continued.
Before 2024, several local elections are coming up, including a special election runoff for District 2 county commissioner on Oct. 17.