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Democrats decry scant access to Georgia voting bill hearings

February 17, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Democrats in Georgia’s state Senate are slamming their Republican colleagues for holding subcommittee votes on high-profile bills that seek to limit voting with little public notice given and without a livestream option for the public to watch.

A Senate subcommittee Wednesday approved bills that would curtail who can vote absentee by mail and require a photo ID for absentee voters. The bills could soon be taken up by the full Senate Ethics Committee.

The subcommittee meeting was held at 7 a.m. No agenda for the meeting was posted online beforehand and the meeting was not livestreamed. Public access to committee rooms has also been restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Democrats quickly criticized the lack of access on the consequential bills, which were introduced by Republicans after a surge in absentee voting helped Democrats win the presidential contest in Georgia as well as two U.S. Senate runoffs.

“Clearly we are trying to hide something from the public, the people we answer to,” said Sen. Elena Parent, a Democrat from Atlanta. “This gamesmanship is unacceptable.”

Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Decatur Democrat, said Republicans were trying to keep “as much of the public as possible in the dark.”

“The less they know, the less protest there will be, the less communication there will be out there in the general public, and the less anger there will be out there toward these suppressive voter registration bills and election bills,” Jones said.

Republicans defended the move, saying subcommittee meetings are not normally livestreamed.

“Subcommittees don’t livestream,” the Senate Republican caucus tweeted.

Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns, a Sylvania Republican who formerly served in Congress, said 7 a.m. committee meetings were not unusual and said the full committee proceedings would be livestreamed when it takes up the bills.

The subcommittee approved Senate Bill 71, which would limit absentee voting to people 75 and older, people with a disability and their caretakers and people who need to be away from their precinct on election day. That would end broad no-excuse absentee voting passed by a Republican-controlled legislature in 2005.

Also approved was Senate Bill 67, which would require voters applying for an absentee ballot to include a driver’s license number or a photocopy of their ID. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger have both endorsed the idea of requiring photo ID for absentee voting, though they have yet to back a specific proposal.

A separate subcommittee approved bills that would create a new position in the secretary of state’s office to oversee “low-performing” county election offices and would restrict the use of mobile voting units.