This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
Update: SB 202 passed the Georgia House on the morning of Thursday, March 25 by a party-line vote of 100 to 75, and was passed by the Senate that night on a 34-to-20 vote before being signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.
At the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), we firmly believe protecting the right to vote is critical in the fight against climate change. In order to enact the policies we need to advance clean energy, electric transportation, and energy equity, we must ensure every citizen is allowed to cast a ballot for elected officials who will take the threat of climate change seriously.
While action at the federal level is certainly needed, as we laid out in our blog post about HR 1, many states are also facing assaults on voting rights. In the Southeast, the state of Georgia is ground zero for anti-voting rights bills.
Efforts to turn out the vote, are now leading to efforts to suppress it
After an extended election season in Georgia with record-breaking voter turnout, House and Senate Republicans introduced House Bill 531 and Senate Bill 241. Senate Bill 241 would eliminate no-excuse absentee voting after a record number of Georgians cast their ballots this way amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020 general election. HB 531 would impose a variety of new restrictions on voting, including limiting the use of ballot drop boxes, requiring a photo ID to return an absentee ballot, and limiting opportunities for early voting, particularly on weekends. Both bills are an attack on voting access and undermine efforts to include all Georgian’s in our democracy.
Last week, parts of these two bills were combined and incorporated into SB 202, a massive voter suppression omnibus bill. Given their inclusion in SB 202, it is likely HB 531 and SB 241 will no longer be considered, with the sponsors instead pushing SB 202. The bill, nearly 100 pages long, was passed out of committee on Monday, March 22. If enacted, it would limit the power of local elections boards, and give more power to the state. Additionally, SB 202 would throw out any provisional ballots cast by voters who were not in their precinct, and place restrictions on the use of secure drop boxes and absentee ballots.
Using ratepayer funds to bankroll voter suppression bills
An exposé compiled by the Center for Popular Information recently revealed that the sponsors of anti-voting rights bills, HB 531 and SB 241, and the omnibus SB 202, received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from major corporations, including Georgia Power, which serves the greater Atlanta area, and its Atlanta-based parent company, Southern Company, whose customers also include utilities like Alabama Power. The exposé revealed Southern Company was a top contributor, funding approximately $38,700 to the co-sponsors of anti-voting rights bills since 2018. The exposé, paired with research by the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter, estimates that together, both Georgia Power and Southern Company have totaled approximately $84,000 in donations to state legislators who sponsored these anti-voting rights bills.
It should be noted that the roughly $84,000 in campaign contributions coming from the two companies are funded by ratepayers who while they pay their utility bills, are also unknowingly funding legislators sponsoring voter suppression efforts. Both companies should be held accountable for their association with anti-voting rights legislation in addition to taking a clear stance in support of voting rights for Georgians.
So far, the only stance Southern Company has taken is one of ambiguity. Without clearly stating their opposition to anti-voting rights legislation and instead, stating they “support efforts that facilitate a balanced approach to the election bills that have been introduced in Georgia,” Southern Company, and conversely Georgia Power, are skirting calls for transparency and accountability by public interest, environmental, justice groups, and many others. Given their history of campaign contributions, an assumption could be made from their statement that Southern Company falls on the side of Georgia Legislators who are pushing these anti-voting rights bills.
Take action to protect the vote in Georgia
That is why we, along with our allies at the Sierra Club Georgia Chapter, Partnership for Southern Equity, Harambee House, the Climate Reality Project, and Groundswell, are demanding Southern Company and Georgia Power cease their financial support of politicians who are attempting to restrict access to the ballot box. Voting justice is directly linked to environmental justice. If you agree, please consider signing this petition to send a message to Georgia Power and ask that they stand up for our democracy.