Bill to shorten Atlanta voting hours advances in Ga. House

Voters in Atlanta would have one less hour to cast their ballots under a bill that cleared a subcommittee Thursday.

The legislation, Senate Bill 363, would force the city of Atlanta to close its polls at 7 p.m. like the rest of the state. Currently, Atlanta is allowed to keep precincts open until 8 p.m. under a state law passed in the 1970s.

The bill was filed by Republican Sen. Matt Brass after Democratic Sen. Jen Jordan won a special election in December to represent a district that covers parts of Atlanta and Cobb County. Voting in Cobb County ended at 7 p.m.

“All the people in the city of Atlanta have a one-hour advantage on the rest of the state,” said Brass, R-Newnan. “We’re trying to get a little more uniformity.”

Opponents of the bill said it would limit voting options for residents fighting through Atlanta traffic after long work days.

"If we actually want to fix the problem of low voter turnout as compared to the rest of the states, we would expand" voting hours statewide, said Chris Bruce of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Jordan, D-Atlanta, won the Senate District 6 special election in a Dec. 5 runoff against Democrat Jaha Howard.

The House Elections Subcommittee voted 3-1 on Thursday to advance the bill to the House Governmental Affairs Committee. The legislation previously passed the Senate.

The bill also attempts to count votes faster on Election Day.

It would allow election officials to begin tallying early votes cast on electronic voting machines at 6 p.m. instead of when polls close at 7 p.m. Results couldn’t be reported until after everyone finishes voting.

A separate bill filed in response to Jordan's election stalled Thursday because its sponsor, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, didn't show up at the hearing.

That legislation, Senate Bill 309, would have required partisan primaries before special elections to avoid a runoff between two Democrats as in the Senate District 6 election.