Georgia civil rights groups sue over state's new racist voting law

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The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a law on Thursday that requires ID to vote by mail, shortens early voting in runoff elections, and makes it a crime to give out food and drinks to people waiting in line to vote.

A trio of Georgia civil rights groups on Thursday filed a lawsuit against a new voter suppression law GOP Gov. Brian Kemp had signed just hours earlier. The groups alleged that the restrictions violate both the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.

The bill Kemp signed into law will require voters to provide identification to vote absentee, limit the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots, shorten the time between a general election and a runoff from nine weeks to just four, and make it a crime to hand out food and drinks to people waiting in line to vote.

The new law also gives Republican-appointed state election officials the ability to replace county election boards if it feels those county boards are not handling their jobs properly. That means Republicans could swoop in to run elections in heavily Democratic counties like Fulton and Gwinnett, which helped elect President Joe Biden and Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Voting rights activists say the bill is directly aimed at making it harder for Black voters to cast ballots, and thus filed suit against the law just hours after Kemp signed it.

According to the lawsuit from the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise, "These provisions lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting."

The lawsuit adds that the new law is "a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult—especially for minority voters."

Republicans passed the new law following baseless allegations made by Donald Trump and his allies that there was election fraud in the state, after Trump lost the presidential contest to Joe Biden by 11,779 votes.

Trump is currently under criminal investigation for demanding the Republican secretary of state "find" the exact number of votes to overturn his loss.

"I was proud to sign S.B. 202 to ensure elections in Georgia are secure, fair, and accessible," Kemp tweeted after signing the bill into law, along with an image of him flanked by six other white men — an image opponents labeled "tone-deaf," given that the law appears to target minority voters.

"I appreciate the hard work of members of the General Assembly to make it easy to vote and hard to cheat," Kemp added.

The legal challenge to the law from the civil rights groups in Georgia says the claim that the restrictions will instill confidence in elections is "not based in reality."

From the lawsuit:

None of the Bill's burdensome and discriminatory changes to Georgia's election code will increase the public's confidence in the state’s election administration or ensure election integrity. Rather, the grab bag of voting restrictions that populate SB 202 make clear that the Bill was animated by an impermissible goal of restricting voting. Taken together, these unjustified measures will individually and cumulatively operate to impose unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote, to deny or abridge the voting rights of Black Georgians, and to deny Black voters in Georgia an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates of their choice in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Democratic lawmakers like Warnock, Ossoff, and former state Rep. Stacey Abrams slammed the law.

"Instead of adjusting their message, some Georgia politicians have decided to rewrite the rules with SB 202— a thinly-veiled attempt to suppress the vote," Warnock tweeted. "It's Jim Crow in new clothes. We will not go back. And Congress must act to protect the sacred right to vote."

Abrams also compared the passage of the bill to the Jim Crow era, pointing to the fact that a Black Democratic state lawmaker was arrested by two white officers while trying to knock on a door behind which Kemp was signing the legislation into law.

"From passage of the #SB202 voter suppression bill targeted at Black and brown voters to the arrest of a Black legislator who was advocating for the voting rights of her constituents, today was a reminder of Georgia’s dark past," Abrams tweeted, along with a striking image of a Black woman being carried away from a protest during the Jim Crow era to the image of Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon being arrested for knocking on Kemp's door. "We must fight for the future of our democracy"

"I stand with Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon (@Cannonfor58), who was arrested and CHARGED WITH A FELONY for ... for what? For *knocking on Gov. Kemp's office door* as she tried to observe the cowardly closed-door signing ceremony for the voter suppression law," Ossoff tweeted late Thursday night. 

Marc Elias, a voting rights attorney representing the civil rights groups in Georgia, said on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, "Today, we saw democracy assaulted."

"We know that these laws are all aimed at disenfranchising Black voters and also young voters," Elias said. "And so the role of the courts are to protect fundamental rights when politicians failed them, and right now Republican politicians around the country are failing voters and failing democracy and we have to turn to the courts."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.