Local Democrats say they want to give voters an much opportunity possible to cast ballots, while Republicans say cutting the number of days would still allow plenty of time to vote and save small cities and counties money on election costs.
House Bill (HB) 92, sponsored by Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), would shorten the early voting period from 45 to 21 days, but would require polls to be open at least one Saturday during the early voting period. The current 45-day law makes Saturday poll opening optional.
“I’m not for HB 92 at this time,” Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), said Thursday. “I’m talking with the bill’s sponsors now to try to work with them. I understand local communities are trying to save money. However, I think we have to be very careful when we change voting opportunities of citizens.”
Rep. Roger Bruce (D-Atlanta) voiced similar concerns.
“I understand why they want to do it, but I feel people ought to have every opportunity to vote,” Bruce said Friday. “I wouldn’t support anything that limits people’s ability to take part in the voting process.”
Bruce said he would like to see legislation that would give voters the right to cast ballots at any polling place, regardless of whether it is in their precinct.
“We have the technology to do this,” Bruce said. “I see no reason why people should have to drive past a closer polling place to go to their precinct.”
State Sen. Donzella James (D-College Park) said, “We must provide every way possible for people to vote. It’s not costing that much. The staff is already there and the facilities are available.”
James said that while voters haven’t been using the 45 days in off-year elections, they did make heavy use of the early days in the 2008 presidential election, when the 45-day law first went into effect.
She suggested perhaps the hours could be reduced, but she doesn’t want to eliminate days from early voting. She also noted that Saturday voting is an option in the current law and that Fulton and some other counties did have Saturday voting days.
On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Bill Hembree (R-Winston) said he supports HB 92 as a cost saving measure.
“We need to maintain early voting, which is very popular,” Hembree said. “However, we also need to keep in mind that cities and counties are having economic problems. This bill still allows people to vote early, but saves money. It also adds one Saturday, creating an opportunity to vote for people who work through the week.”
Tim Bearden (R-Villa Rica) said he has no problem with shortening the 45-day period, but added there are some things in the bill that still need to be addressed.
“It still has to go through the subcommittee and then the full committee,” Bearden said.
State Sen. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton) said data shows that voters wait closer until election day before casting early votes.
“Shortening these (early voting) periods will be a more efficient use of resources and save taxpayer dollars,” Hamrick said. “I would support legislation that accomplishes this if it comes to the Senate for a vote.”
Both the organizations representing county and city governments have voiced their support of HB 92.
An Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) spokesperson said the 45-day period creates problems for smaller counties that don’t have available staff. He also noted that the national average for early voting is 24 days and it’s 21 days for municipal elections in Georgia.
“Our only issue is the cost,” said Clint Mueller, ACCG legislative director. “We’re trying to make sure we’re spending our tax dollars as wisely as possible.”
The Georgia Municipal Association has called for shortening the voting period to two weeks to save money for small cities.
--Associated Press contributed to this story.