OPINION: Georgia changed its election laws. Can Congress change them back?

The tug of war over Georgia elections didn’t end with the passage of Senate Bill 202, the state’s sweeping new election law. In many ways, the latest fight over how Georgians vote is just getting started.

That’s because while Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly were plowing through more than 80 different proposals to tweak, change, and overhaul the state’s elections, Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, an equally sweeping piece of legislation with changes to federal elections in all 50 states.

H.R. 1 is now waiting for a vote in the United States Senate, where its fate is uncertain since Democrats lack the 60 votes to overcome a certain GOP filibuster against it.

But what would happen if the Senate eliminated the filibuster and passed the voting legislation next?

Republicans warn that the proposal would federalize state elections, while Democrats cast it as an antidote to what they see as voter suppression in states like Georgia, where lawmakers pushed to respond to Donald Trump’s dishonest claims that the Georgia vote was rigged against him.

And corporate leaders like Coca-Cola’s CEO James Quincy, under intense pressure from voting rights activists, are now pushing the measure as proof of their company’s commitment to equal access to voting.

The New Georgia Project Action Fund even circulated a petition calling on members of Congress to pass H.R. 1 to “reverse the anti-voting laws in Georgia and in other states and ensure all of us have the Freedom to Vote.”

But the reality of H.R. 1 is more complicated than simply “reversing” the laws in Georgia and other states.

In truth, lawyers at the state and federal level tell me that H.R. 1 would eliminate some portions of SB 202, leave others intact, and even take some election practices already in use in Georgia and push them out nationwide.

Overall, H.R. 1 would apply to any election in America with a federal office on the ballot (think House, Senate and White House). And it would apply to all existing state laws that govern elections for federal offices, including Georgia’s SB 202.

One of the biggest changes Georgia voters would notice if the federal law passed relates to the photo ID requirement for voting.

While Georgia law already required photo ID to vote in person, and will also require a state driver’s license or other identification to vote by mail in future elections, H.R. 1 would effectively eliminate both.

A valid signature match against state records, which Georgia law used to rely on for mail-in voting, would become the federal standard for all mail-in voting.

And while photo ID would still be requested for in-person voting, anyone without a photo ID can sign an affidavit affirming they are who they say they are in order to cast a ballot.

Another major change Georgia voters would notice under H.R. 1 would be same-day voter registration, meaning voters could register to vote on Election Day, instead of 30 days in advance.

Like SB 202, ballot drop boxes would also be mandated, but with one for every 20,000 residents, five times the new Georgia standard of one per 100,000 people.

Left entirely untouched in the Georgia legislation would be the demotion in the bill for the Secretary of State, replaced as the chair of the influential State Elections Board by a chair chosen by the General Assembly. The legislature would also keep its new authority to take over “underperforming” county election systems.

Also unchanged would be the more administrative directives to Georgia counties in SB 202, like the mandate to count ballots without stopping until a result is known and a shortening of the state’s runoff period from nine weeks to four.

And what about the most derided element of SB 202 – the rule against distributing food and water directly to voters in line? That would remain enshrined in Georgia law. (A separate bill from U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams would allow giving food and drinks for people waiting in line to vote).

As the nationwide fight over voting continues, Georgians in both parties are likely to be at the center of it.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock has already taken the lead on pushing for H.R. 1 in the Senate, where it’s known as S .1., and he used his first speech in the Senate to call laws like his home state’s “Jim Crow in new clothes.”

Defending the Georgia law against H.R. 1 will be state Attorney General Chris Carr, who called H.R. 1 an improper attempt to federalize voting.

“It is not acceptable, and I will push back,” Carr said. “H.R. 1 would commandeer state resources, confuse and muddle voting procedures and further erode trust in our elections. Washington bureaucrats controlling elections will give the party in control an unchecked ability to influence election outcomes, and that is dangerous and blatantly unconstitutional.”

Like so many things in politics, where you stand on voting laws right now depends on where you sit and whom you trust.

For all of Democrats’ efforts to make the federal government the final word on elections, it was state government officials like Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp who defended Georgia’s 2020 elections against a White House attempt to throw them out.

And it wasn’t the president or their shared party that Raffensperger and Kemp said they answered to at the end of the day. It was the laws in Georgia — laws that Republican legislators changed anyway and that even H.R. 1 won’t fully be able to change back.

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