Throwing down the gauntlet. Drawing a line in a sand. Putting the Georgia General Assembly on notice.
Regardless of how one describes it, the underlying message that came out of Solicitor General Brian Whiteside’s office on Friday afternoon is that he will fight the state of Georgia in court if a controversial omnibus elections reform bill, House Bill 531, pending in the Georgia House of Representatives becomes law.
The latest version bill posted on the General Assembly’s website would, among other things, require voters to provide a copy of their identification when applying for an absentee ballot, limits absentee ballot drop boxes to being inside advance voting locations during the advance voting period and forcing local elections officials to chose between one Sunday or a second Saturday for advance voting.
“If Georgia H.B. 531 passes and is signed into law, the Gwinnett County Solicitor General’s Office is prepared to take legal action against the state of Georgia,” Whiteside said in a statement. “H.B. 531 poses an undue burden upon the citizens of Gwinnett County during a global pandemic by removing absentee ballot drop boxes and removing Sunday early voting.”
If the bill becomes law, it would roll back some of the expansions of voting options that have gradually been implemented in Gwinnett over the course of several recent elections cycles. Counties would have to provide at least one drop box, but they would not be allowed to provide more than one for every 200,000 registered voters.
In November 2020, Gwinnett had 23 absentee ballot drop boxes and 19 days of advance voting at nine sites. Under the changes proposed in HB 531, the county — which is on the cusp of crossing the 600,000 registered voters threshold — would likely be limited to about three drop boxes and no more than 17 days of advance voting.
Those drop boxes would only be available during the hours when the site is open for advance voting, and would no longer be available after the advance voting period ends, which is the Friday before election day.
The bill originally sought to ban Sunday voting all together, but was modified when it passed out of a House special elections committee to limit counties to no more than two weekend days of advance voting. One of those days would be the one Saturday voting day already required by state law.
Local elections registrars would have the option of choosing either the third Saturday before the election, or the third Sunday before the election for the other weekend voting day.
“The ramifications of H.B. 531 may increase the chance of possible civil disturbance and create a burden for local law enforcement and Gwinnett County Board of Registrations and Elections,” Whiteside said. “The Gwinnett County Solicitor-General’s Office has a duty to protect the rights and safety of the citizens from any possible violent protests and unconstitutional actions.”