Lawmakers will turn Atlanta into a hotbed of debate about voting rights and ballot access Tuesday with two separate meetings set to delve into problems that clouded last year’s election and ways to fix them before next year’s vote.
On Tuesday morning, U.S. House Democrats will hold a hearing that will probe allegations of voter suppression in Georgia, part of a string of events designed to set the stage for a revival of the Voting Rights Act.
And on Tuesday afternoon, a Georgia House committee will weigh new legislation that could curtail large-scale cancellations of voter registrations and switch the state from an electronic voting system to touchscreen machines that print ballots.
Both will feature Stacey Abrams, the Democratic runner-up in last year’s race for governor who accused Brian Kemp of using his position as Georgia’s top elections official to intimidate and suppress minority votes.
And both will involve Kemp, who as secretary of state shaped the state’s voting policies and backed the commission that recommended a computerized system that spits out paper ballots rather than a process that requires voters to fill them out by hand.
The morning hearing, staged by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Voting, will be held at the Carter Center and start with testimony from Abrams, along with Sean Young of the Georgia ACLU, Cliff Albright of Black Voters Matter and Gilda Daniels of the Advancement Project. Lawmakers will also hear from Stacey Hopkins, a Fulton County voter who said she will testify about her struggle to cast a ballot.
While the hearing will probe last year’s vote, Democrats also want to use the testimony to lay the legislative groundwork to bolster the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 law that was weakened six years ago by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
That decision directed Congress to build a “robust” legislative record before bringing back the Justice Department’s mandate to pre-clear certain voting changes in Georgia and other places with histories of voter suppression.
The afternoon committee meeting, in an office building across from the statehouse, will be the first test for Republican-sponsored legislation that could pave the way for a proposed $150 million replacement of Georgia’s voting system.
At the center of the fight is Republican state Rep. Barry Fleming, a staunch Kemp ally who said he introduced the bill to make it “easier for people to vote and having a voting system that’s quick and efficient and can be audited.”
Critics of the legislation have assailed Fleming for his role as attorney for Hancock County, a rural majority-black county which faced a lawsuit accusing local elections officials of disproportionately removing black voters from the rolls.
A 2017 settlement required the county to restore voting rights to dozens of voters – nearly all of them black – who were disenfranchised ahead of a local election.
Abrams is not set to testify at that meeting, but the Fair Fight Action voting rights group that she launched when she ended her campaign has bombarded supporters with texts, emails and social media posts encouraging them to show up in force.
The group and its allies want lawmakers to embrace a voting system that uses paper ballots filled out by hand - a method they say is not only less expensive but also less vulnerable to hacking because it doesn’t rely on machines to print the ballots.
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