In an age when we should be doing everything in our power to encourage voting, along comes House Bill 194. No, this isn’t another voter ID bill. That’s already been done in Georgia. What HB 194 would do is cut the number of weeks of early voting from three to two, and it would also remove the ability to have early voting for two full weekends. Current law has a mandated Saturday, but allows the individual counties to decide if additional weekend days are necessary. This proposal takes that flexibility away and allows one Saturday and one Sunday or Saturday, but not both. So much for the mantra of local control.
While citing the burden on smaller communities, the sponsors intent is clear. According to the League of Women Voters, Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, a co-sponsor of this bill, said it was “not good enough” in his opinion “for small cities,” and he said small communities would be happy with just election day voting. Oh really?
The Governmental Affairs Committee of the House gave HB 194 a “do pass” recommendation and it now sits in the Rules Committee. It would be easy to surmise that some House members would like to cut down on early voting, knowing that in 2012, 44 percent of the ballots cast were cast during the early voting period. Instead of limiting the time period and yanking local control away from boards of election, the House should do everything in its power to charge up the electorate and encourage them to vote. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have some sort of early voting period and the time frames are all over the map. In Minnesota, the early voting period is 46 days. In Florida, it’s only 10. States such as Oregon, Washington and Colorado vote by mail, eliminating the need for early voting.
Georgia could be considered progressive in this area, particularly in the South. Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia and Kentucky don’t offer early voting and, unlike Georgia, voters in those states have to provide an excuse in order to receive an absentee ballot.
Maybe lawmakers should try to come up with a better primary system than mess with something that doesn’t need to be messed with.