Georgia candidates line up early for key 2022 elections

Last year’s heated election cycle in Georgia has already drawn early candidates — including primary challengers — for 2022 races in which Republicans are looking to fend off strong Democratic campaigns for key statewide seats. (Photo by Beau Evans)

The first wave of candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for key Georgia elective offices including lieutenant governor and secretary of state amid bitter partisan battles over the state’s new election law.

With roughly 19 months until the November 2022 general election, several Democratic contenders are vying for top seats long held by Republicans, while the state’s incumbent GOP elections chief has already drawn a tough primary challenge after last year’s charged election cycle.

In recent weeks, Democratic state Rep. Erick Allen of Smyrna announced his candidacy against Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who also could draw a hardline GOP primary opponent over his appeal to the state’s moderate Republicans following last year’s election losses.

That’s the case for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican seeking reelection against fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice of Greensboro as well as former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle.

A four-term congressman, Hice has lobbed many of same attacks over the party’s 2020 election losses that former President Donald Trump used to pummel Raffensperger, who repeatedly rejected Trump’s claims of voter fraud. Trump has already endorsed Hice.

“Every Georgian, in fact every American, has the right to be outraged by the actions and, simultaneously, the inaction of our secretary of state,” Hice said in his March 22 announcement.

“At the end of the day, I think people will figure out that we did follow the law,” Raffensperger said in a March 30 interview. “We’ll make sure we have fair and honest elections in Georgia.”

Democrat Manswell Peterson, a U.S. Navy veteran and former police officer from Albany, also announced last week he is running for secretary of state against Raffensperger.

Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp has yet to draw an opponent from his own party after absorbing blows from Trump, who lost to current President Joe Biden by a slim margin in the first of what is expected to be many tight statewide elections over the next decade.

But Republicans are already gearing up to mark 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as GOP public-enemy No. 1 after she helped galvanize Georgia Democrats to historic wins in last year’s presidential and U.S. Senate races.

Abrams is widely expected to run against Kemp again but has not officially declared her candidacy. If she does, Abrams will be on the Democratic ticket with recently elected U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is staring down another brutal campaign in 2022 after winning the final two years of retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term.

Georgia’s controversial election bill that Kemp signed into law last month looks to figure prominently in the upcoming races, with Democrats and Republicans sparring over whether the changes worsen or improve voter access, the role of Trump’s fraud claims and local business boycotts.

“The attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections,” Kemp said last week.

“If the Georgia GOP cared about Georgia’s economy and the working Georgians that keep our state going, they wouldn’t have tried to steal their votes,” said Democratic Party of Georgia spokeswoman Maggie Chambers in response.

Also up for reelection next year is Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican and Trump ally. He has so far drawn a challenge from Democrat Charlie Bailey, an Atlanta attorney and former prosecutor who lost to Carr in 2018.

Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, an Atlanta attorney, has been floated as a possible candidate to run against Carr. She has not said whether she’ll launch a 2022 campaign but told lawmakers during debate on a prosecutor-oversight bill she opposed that it “just may mean we may need a new [attorney general].”

Additionally, Democratic state Rep. William Boddie of East Point announced this week he’ll run against Republican Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, whose office has faced backlash over slow turnaround times for processing unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Georgia election bill signing draws federal lawsuit, lawmaker arrest

The speedy passage and signing of controversial Republican-brought legislation overhauling Georgia mail-in and early voting has drawn a federal lawsuit and the arrest of a Democratic state lawmaker.

The sweeping 98-page bill hashed out by top Republicans in the General Assembly cleared both chambers Thursday afternoon and quickly gained Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature in an early-evening ceremony held behind closed doors at the state Capitol.

That decision led to the arrest of Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, by Capitol police officers for knocking on the door to Kemp’s office, an episode that was caught on video and widely circulated on social media. She faces felony charges on charges of disrupting legislative proceedings and violence toward police.

Park’s arrest, which prompted swift condemnation from Democratic leaders and supporters, came as opponents of the omnibus bill readied a lawsuit aimed at blocking the election changes on grounds they would violate federal voting-rights law and the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit, filed by several Democrat-aligned voting groups including the New Georgia Project and Black Voters Matter Fund, echoes criticism from opponents who have argued the bill’s passage would result in curbing election turnout in Black and low-income communities.

“Collectively, these challenged provisions not only impose severe and unconstitutional restrictions on the voting rights of all Georgians, but they also disparately impact Black voters and effectively deny them an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates of their choice,” the lawsuit claims.

Among dozens of changes, the bill requires stricter voter ID rules for mail-in ballots, bans people from handing out food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places and halts absentee ballot applications from being accepted within 11 days of an election.

It also allows state officials to take over county election boards for poor performance, which Democratic leaders and voting-rights advocates argue could give Republicans a back-door way to influence local election operations in many counties.

Additionally, the bill requires local election officials to hold two Saturdays of early voting and give counties the option to hold poll hours on two Sundays, marking expanded hours that Republican leaders say will give Georgians more access to the polls.

Republican state leaders have dismissed accusations the bill, sponsored by Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, would reduce voter access or benefit their party’s ticket in Georgia. They have insisted the election changes aim to shore up voter confidence after the 2020 elections spurred unfounded fraud claims.

Kemp, who signed the bill about an hour after its final General Assembly passage, batted back at Democrats’ attempts to cast the bill as a form of voter suppression akin to discriminatory tactics of the Jim Crow era.

“Contrary to the hyper-partisan rhetoric … the facts are this new law will expand voting access in the Peach State,” Kemp said in a video speech shortly after signing the bill.

“Georgians will no doubt soon be overwhelmed with fancy TV ads, mailers and radio spots attacking this common-sense election reform measure. … The truth is ensuring the integrity of the ballot box is not partisan [but] it’s about protecting the very foundation of who we are as Georgians and Americans.”

The governor’s speech was interrupted briefly by the arrest of Park, a Black lawmaker who drew comparisons to civil rights movement heroes the late Congressman John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. as officers forced her out of the Capitol and booked her into the Fulton County Jail. She was released hours later.

Many observers and critics including highlighted the irony of a Black lawmaker being arrested over a bill that has been slammed as an echo of old segregationist laws and practices in the state.

“While Kemp signed the most restrictive voter suppression bill seen since Jim Crow, authorities outside unjustly arrested a Black legislator and charged her with two felonies,” the Democratic Party of Georgia said on Twitter. “This is the civil-rights fight of our generation.”

Meanwhile, Republican officials in Georgia and outside the state mustered to defend the election bill against the lawsuit filed in the Atlanta-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, slammed Democrats’ “false narrative” on the election bill and said her organization “look[s] forward to defending this law in court.”

“Democrats can lie and spin about the bill all they want, but the real question should be: ‘Why are Democrats so terrified of a transparent and secure election process?’ ” McDaniel said in a statement.

Georgia absentee, early voting changes clear General Assembly, signed into law

Sen. Max Burns presents his omnibus Georgia election bill shortly before final passage in the state Senate on March 25, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Sweeping legislation to overhaul voting by mail, advance voting and state oversight of Georgia elections passed out of the General Assembly Thursday and was promptly signed by Gov. Brian Kemp after months of intense debate at the state Capitol.

The 95-page bill contains dozens of proposals pitched by Republicans that would require stricter voter ID rules for mail-in ballots, ban people from handing out food and drink to voters waiting in line outside polling places and halt absentee ballot applications from being accepted within 11 days of an election.

It cleared the state House of Representatives by a 100-75 vote along party lines Thursday before gaining final passage a few hours later in the state Senate, also by a party-line vote. Kemp signed the bill into law about an hour after its passage in the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, absorbed proposals from several other election-focused measures on its way to passing out of the state legislature, swelling to nearly 100 pages from an original 2-page bill last week in a process that drew concerns over transparency.

Beyond absentee and early voting changes, Burns’ bill would also allow state officials to take over county election boards for poor performance, which Democratic leaders and voting-rights advocates argue could give Republicans a back door to influence local election operations in many counties.

The bill also dropped a prior effort by Republican state lawmakers to shrink early voting on Sundays in Georgia. It instead would require two Saturdays of early voting and give counties the option to hold poll hours on two Sundays.

Among the bill’s most contentious changes to survive final passage is a requirement that registered Georgia voters provide the number on their driver’s license or state ID card to request and cast absentee ballots. If they do not have those ID forms, voters instead would have to send in a copy of their passport, employee ID card, utility bill or bank statement.

“Our goal is to ensure election integrity and to restore or confirm confidence in the election process,” Burns said from the Senate floor shortly before the bill’s passage.

Georgia Democratic leaders have long condemned the changes pushed by Republicans, characterizing them targeted at minority and low-income voters to curb election turnout in communities where Democrats tend to draw strong support.

“Make no mistake: This is democracy in reverse,” said Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain. “We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era.”

Election bills that have sparked intense debate in the General Assembly come after former President Donald Trump and his allies sowed doubts over Georgia’s election system, calling it fraught with fraud despite the repeated rejection of Trump’s claims by state officials and federal courts in recent months.

Speaking from the House floor Thursday, Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who has spearheaded the push for election changes in the House, framed the bill as an expansion of voter access and tighter oversight of local election officials as he presented the bill before the vote.

“The bill greatly expands accessibility of voters in Georgia and greatly improves the process of administration of elections, while at the same time providing more accountability to ensure the integrity that the vote is properly preserved,” said Fleming, who chairs the House Special Committee on Election Integrity.

State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, has led efforts to bring broad changes to Georgia’s election system during the 2021 legislative session. (Photo by Beau Evans)

A different bill by Fleming is also awaiting consideration on the Senate floor. His 45-page bill was revised earlier this week to allow counties to buy their own voting machines amid distrust over new machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems that were first used in Georgia during last year’s elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, who has overseen revisions to Fleming’s bill in the Senate, earlier this week slammed opponents for characterizing the elections bills as instruments of voter suppression, which Republicans have denied.

Democrats in the General Assembly have devoted much of this year’s legislative session to condemning moves by Fleming, Burns and top Republicans in both chambers to overhaul voting by mail and limit access to the polls, calling their measures attempts at voter suppression reminiscent of the Jim Crow era of racial segregation.

Opposition from Democrats along with by some Republican leaders including Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, prompted bill drafters to scrap a controversial proposal that would have repealed no-excuse absentee voting.

Still, Democratic lawmakers view the bill overall as harmful to Georgians’ voting rights, particularly for minority communities that helped boost mail-in voting to record numbers in the 2020 election cycle amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You are changing the rules, cutting the polling hours and making more requirements to vote,” said Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell. “That’s not right, that’s not fair and that’s not just. … Too many people fought, bled and died for our right to vote.”

Rep. Calvin Smyre is joined by Georgia House Democratic lawmakers to condemn Republican-led election bills in the General Assembly on March 23, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Republican leaders such as Dugan have bristled at that characterization, dismissing accusations that their bills aim to dampen Black and minority voters from casting ballots in Georgia.

“I think it’s demeaning to all those people who came before who actually had to work their tails off to get those repealed,” Dugan said earlier this week. “The hyperbole is unfortunate.”

Democratic leaders have also sought to paint the Republican-led election bills as an effort to halt momentum following the 2020 elections that saw Democrats carry Georgia in the presidential race and flip both of the state’s U.S. Senate seats for the first time in decades.

Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, the legislature’s longest-serving member, said earlier this week Democrats will continue to oppose the bills even with some concessions such as ditching the repeal on no-excuse absentee voting and more weekend poll hours.

“As state legislators, our aim is to ensure that all voters, particularly voters of color, have full, meaningful and non-burdensome access to the one fundamental right, and that is the preservation of all other rights, and that is the right to vote,” Smyre said.

Lawmakers have a week more to wrap up fine-tuning of the election bills on the one hand or fighting them on them other. The last day of the General Assembly session is next Wednesday, March 31.

This story has been revised to reflect that the House and Senate have both passed Sen. Burns’ election bill.

Georgia election bills ditch no-excuse absentee repeal, Sunday voting ban

State Sen. Max Burns (center) oversees debate on an omnibus Georgia election bill in the Senate Ethics Committee that he chairs on March 22, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans)

Republican state lawmakers hammering out changes to Georgia’s election system have dropped controversial proposals to scrap Sunday polling hours and no-excuse mail-in voting amid pushback from Democratic leaders and voting-rights advocates.

With the General Assembly set to adjourn the 2021 session next week, two omnibus bills moving through the House and Senate include dozens of proposed election changes that continue to irk opponents, especially tighter voter ID rules for casting absentee ballots and a ban on giving out water or food to voters waiting in line outside polling places.

But the move to repeal no-excuse absentee voting and shrink weekend hours during the three-week early voting period mark a breakthrough for opponents who viewed those proposals as chief among attempts at voter suppression, particularly targeting low-income and minority voters.

“It’s an improvement,” said the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus on one of the two measures, both of which faced committee hearings on Monday. “But many of the provisions usurp local control.”

Republican backers frame the election changes as voter-integrity protections after the 2020 elections sparked doubts over the security of mail-in voting and identity verification. Democrats argue those issues were created out of thin air by former President Donald Trump’s allies who alleged voter fraud that election officials and federal courts consistently rejected.

In the Senate, lawmakers took up a 40-page bill sponsored by Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, that previously proposed barring county election officials from opening the polls on Sundays for early voting. That proposal has been ditched.

Instead, a separate 94-page measure moving in the House of Representatives would give counties the option to hold early voting on two different weekends ahead of an election, including mandatory open hours on Saturdays and optional hours on Sundays.

“Both Saturdays and both Sundays are possible … if locals want it,” said Fleming, who chairs the House Special Committee on Election Integrity.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, could face tweaks in the coming days due to concerns from election officials in Georgia’s smaller counties who typically see few voters show up to cast ballots except on Election Day, citing unnecessary costs to hold sparsely attended weekend voting.

The measure by Burns, who chairs the Senate Ethics Committee, gained approval Monday in Fleming’s committee and now heads to the full House.

Conversely, Fleming’s bill faced debate in the Senate committee that Burns chairs on Monday but did not receive a vote to advance to the full chamber.

Neither of the bills by Fleming and Burns contains a proposal to roll back the ability of Georgia voters to cast mail-in ballots without having to give a reason. No-excuse absentee voting has been in effect since 2005 under then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The no-excuse rollback was pitched in a third omnibus election bill by Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, who has signaled he will drop the repeal amid opposition from top state Republicans including Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Dugan said Monday the repeal of no-excuse absentee voting was not added to Burns’ bill after it “seemed to cause consternation” among voters and advocacy groups.

Both bills by Burns and Fleming still contain rules changes that would require registered Georgia voters to provide the number on their driver’s license or state ID card to request and cast absentee ballots.

If they do not have those ID forms, voters instead would have to send in a copy of their passport, employee ID card, utility bill or bank statement.

The change to state voter ID laws, the most likely change to pass in the Republican-controlled legislature, has been criticized by opponents as a means to disenfranchise voters who lack driver’s licenses – though Ralston has pledged to make free state ID’s available to every Georgian.

Ralston threw his support behind Burns’ bill shortly after its passage Monday, saying the measure “makes voting more accessible and improves election security.”

“By providing for expanded weekend voting and enshrining drop boxes into law for the first time, we are making it easier to vote across our state,” Ralston said in a statement.

Beyond the ID rules, Democrats and voting-rights groups have bashed proposals still in play to curb outside groups’ ability to send voters applications for absentee ballots and give counties grant funds for elections, as well as to require that mail-in ballot drop boxes be located inside polling places.

Critics have also called for more analysis of how much counties would have to pay for implementing operational changes under the bills after outside reporting recently estimated local election boards could face tens of millions of dollars in added costs.

“There is not a fiscal note for this bill and there are many things that cost money,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, on Fleming’s bill Monday. “I think there should be a fiscal note for this bill.”

The advocacy group Fair Fight, which 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams founded, singled out Burns’ bill that advanced Monday as a “power grab [that] takes away local control and threatens our economy.”

“Had it been law in 2020, it could have allowed the GOP to overturn the election,” Fair Fight said on Twitter. “It’s bad for democracy and bad for business.”

New omnibus election bill appears in Georgia House, sparks backlash

State lawmakers are considering several large bills to change Georgia’s absentee and early voting system in the 2021 legislative session. (Photo by Beau Evans)

A new wide-ranging measure from Republican state lawmakers with changes to Georgia’s election system abruptly appeared Wednesday just before a scheduled committee hearing, sparking backlash from Democrats and voting-rights advocates about transparency.

The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Max Burns, R-Sylvania, passed out of the Senate last week as a two-page bill focused on restricting how many applications for mail-in ballots outside groups could send to Georgia voters ahead of elections.

But it arrived in the House Special Committee on Election Integrity Wednesday as a sweeping 93-page amended bill encompassing dozens of proposals contained in several other Republican-backed bills.

  • Read the amended bill here.

Democrats on the committee cried foul over the speed and sparse advance notice of the bill, as did some voting-rights advocates who spoke up to denounce what they view as closed-door crafting of legislation that would bring major changes to how, when and where Georgians can vote.

“I’m just trying to understand the process here of how we’re doing things,” said Rep. Rhonda Burnough, D-Riverdale. “Are we just taking bills piece-by-piece and just putting them in when we want to? … Something’s not right.”

Burns’ newly transformed bill contains proposals from several other omnibus measures in the current legislative session, including proposals allowing state elections officials to take control of poor-performing county election boards, requiring absentee-ballot drop boxes to be located inside early-voting polling places and blocking mail-in ballot applications from being processed within 11 days of an election.

The bill also contains a contentious proposal allowing an unlimited number of challenges to voter qualifications ahead of elections, potentially freeing up the sort of large-scale moves to formally dispute voter registrations seen before Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs in January.

“Right now, in this piece of legislation, we’re legitimizing falsehoods that continue to disenfranchise African Americans and people of color across this state,” said James Woodall, president of the NAACP’s Georgia chapter.

“This process has not been efficient. It does not improve voter confidence and, in fact, will lead to greater consequences for [Georgia voters].”

One of the other omnibus election measures absorbed by Burns’ bill comes from Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who chairs the House committee that held Wednesday’s hearing. His 66-page measure has faced two days of hearings in the Senate Ethics Committee this week and is expected to undergo more changes to be reviewed publicly on Thursday.

Speaking at Wednesday’s hearing, Fleming stressed no votes would be taken on Burns’ bill and that more testimony would be taken on Thursday.

Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, argued in favor of the short notice for the bill, saying it aimed to serve as an introductory hearing to the proposals without any official action being taken.

“At some point, one has to put a bill out and have hearings,” Martin said.

Also included in Burns’ bill are proposals from another omnibus election measure from Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, that is expected to scrap a controversial repeal of no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia but may soon incorporate proposals from other bills as it continues moving through the legislature.

Both Dugan’s and Fleming’s omnibus measures also propose requiring Georgians to provide a driver’s license or state ID card number in order to request an absentee ballot, a change supporters say would eliminate Georgia’s process for verifying voter signatures on mail-in ballot envelopes that former President Donald Trump and his allies bashed in the Nov. 3 general election.

That proposed change and many others still alive in the session have drawn a sharp outcry from opponents who argue they aim to hinder access to Georgia voters of color and to halt Democratic momentum following wins in the 2020 presidential election and recent Senate runoffs.

Controversial Georgia elections bills head for finish line in General Assembly

Voting-rights advocates protest inside the state Capitol against Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s (R-Carrollton) elections bill before its passage in the Georgia Senate on March 8, 2021. (Photo by Beau Evans)

ATLANTA – Controversial legislation to overhaul voting by mail in Georgia and how voters can cast early ballots is racing toward the finish line in the General Assembly amid a sharp outcry from local voting-rights and church groups.

Two bills, both proposing dozens of changes to Georgia’s election system, recently cleared major hurdles in the current legislative session and are on a collision course to final passage as top lawmakers in the state Senate and House of Representatives decide which measures to keep and which to scrap.

Most likely on the chopping block is a proposal to end Georgians’ ability to vote by mail without giving a reason that has drawn a loud outcry. Democratic leaders call the move an attempt by state Republicans to gut mail-in voting after absentee ballots drove historic wins in the 2020 election cycle.

Separately, church leaders and Democratic backers of former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams are building up grassroots efforts to combat proposals to clamp down on line warming and weekend voting, portraying those Republican-brought measures as rooted in voter suppression.

Critics have also condemned the GOP-led election bills as attempts to curb voter turnout in Black and other minority communities that tend to lean Democratic, particularly after Black voters and mail-in ballots helped flip the presidency and both of Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats in the 2020 elections.

“These bills are directly evil,” said Rev. Ferrell Malone Sr., the senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Waycross. “They are literally evil, and they’re coming from men and women who say they are Christians.”

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have held firm in their argument that the legislative proposals are needed to protect voter integrity in Georgia after the 2020 elections sparked doubts over the security of mail-in voting and identity verification.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, R-Carrollton, has dismissed attacks on an omnibus elections bill he is sponsoring in the Senate that includes repealing no-excuse absentee voting, as well as a new rule requiring Georgians to provide a driver’s license or state ID card number in order to request an absentee ballot.

Dugan and supporters of those measures in the Republican-controlled General Assembly also highlight the strain that processing millions of absentee ballots put on local election workers tasked with running three weeks of early voting and managing Election Day for several elections in the 2020 cycle.

“If we keep using more and more of the absentee [ballots], you’re going to overwhelm the counties multiple different ways, in the workload and the cost,” Dugan said. “The highest number of rejected ballots are mail-in absentee ballots, even with the curing process.”

“This is about [how] the method of voting in Georgia has significantly changed over the last 10 years.”

The proposal in Dugan’s bill that has come under the most criticism would limit absentee voting only to those who physically cannot go to the polls on Election Day or for early voting, ending the no-excuse absentee voting option that Republicans passed into state law in 2005.

The measure has also drawn pushback from top state Republicans including House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, who refused to preside over the Senate vote on Dugan’s bill last week in protest of the no-excuse absentee voting repeal.

Dugan has since backed off that proposal, noting that lawmakers will likely move to strip out the no-excuse absentee ban as his bill moves in the House.

“I want a good reform bill to go through,” Dugan said. “And if I’m going to get everything killed because of something that I feel is important that a majority of both chambers don’t necessarily agree with, then I’m not going to die on that hill for ego.”

It has not been settled among Republican leaders yet whether to push Dugan’s bill or a separate 66-page omnibus measure sponsored by Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, as the final set of proposals that lawmakers are expected to negotiate before passing onto Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk.

Fleming, whose office did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, has pitched several contentious changes that include requiring counties to pick either a Saturday or a Sunday for early voting and forbidding people from giving food or drinks to voters waiting in line outside polling places.

Those two proposals have prompted some of the fiercest backlash against the GOP-led elections bills by voting-rights advocates who blast them as blatant attempts to depress voter turnout in Democratic-leaning minority neighborhoods that often face long lines at polling places.

“It’s just a very cruel thing to do to people who are good Samaritans and have their faith move them to help people exercise their right to vote,” said Hillary Holley, organizing director for the group Fair Fight Action that Abrams founded following her loss to Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election.

“Seeing the state try to punish volunteers for helping people who are on the brink of passing out in line to vote is just horrifying.”

Abrams’ Fair Fight group, as well as local churches and other grassroots organizations, are now mobilizing to drum up widespread public opposition to state Republicans’ elections bills, including by pressuring large Georgia-based companies including Coca-Cola, Delta and Southern Company to take a stand against the bills.

Already, pressure by protesters in Southeast Georgia has spurred Hancock County officials to formally request that Fleming resign from his post as the county’s attorney on grounds that his measure is at odds with the county’s majority-Black population.

“We stand on the cusp of something great in history,” said Rev. Willie Wiley, presiding elder of the Augusta-Sparta district of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. “Don’t allow ambitious people who have not the interests of Georgians at heart to rob us of this unique opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Dugan says he’s weathering the storm of criticism and personal attacks his bill has inspired, while focusing on helping steer whichever set of proposals most lawmakers in the General Assembly want to see cross the finish line later this month, whether they come from Fleming’s bill or his own.

“My concern is really not the politics of it,” Dugan said. “My concern is actually having something that is beneficial for the state moving forward.”