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Georgia’s battle to overhaul its elections process is headed to court.
Hours after Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping, controversial elections bill into law Thursday, voting rights groups filed a lawsuit in federal court in Atlanta. The 35-page complaint says minority voters will be harmed by the new legislation, which, plaintiffs say, illegally suppresses voters’ rights and is in violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit was filed by The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise Inc.
Marc Elias, a prominent Washington, D.C. voting rights attorney, is one of the attorneys representing the voting rights groups in its lawsuit opposing the new law, which limits drop boxes, requires photo ID for absentee voting, and other restrictions. Elias, who has worked with Democrats to expand voting options during the pandemic, was not available for comment at press time. The Atlanta law firm of Krevolin & Horst also is serving as counsel for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Introduced less than a week ago, the GOP-backed Senate Bill 202 moved swiftly through the Georgia General Assembly to Kemp’s desk where he signed it behind closed doors as six Republican lawmakers – all men, all white – looked on. The incident caused national outrage late Thursday when a Democratic lawmaker was arrested while knocking on Kemp’s office door as the signing was underway. State Rep. Park Cannon, who is black, faces two felony charges: felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting general assembly session. She was released on bond.
The new law comes less than a week before the legislative session ends on March 31.
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock — one of two Democratic senators who won the Jan. 5 runoff — flew home to Georgia to be with Cannon, State Rep. Erica Thomas told CNN Friday morning. Cannon is a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Warnock served as senior pastor. Thomas was with Cannon when she was arrested.
“It will hurt all voters in Georgia,” Thomas said of the new law.
Meanwhile, critics blasted the new law, which limits drop boxes, reduces early voting, allows state takeovers of local elections, and more.
“What Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law is nothing more than a racist and malicious attempt to silence Black, Latinx, and API communities,” Chris Baumann, southern region director of SEIU Workers United, said in a statement. ”It is one of the most racist voter suppression bills we’ve seen since Jim Crow.”
Baumann said the new law was payback for record turnout by people of color during the 2020 presidential election and the Georgia senate runoff races.
“The GOP saw what Black, Latinx, and API voters in Georgia did in 2020 to deliver the deciding votes to take back the White House, flip the Senate, and win key races down the ballot and they want to ensure it never happens again,” Baumann added. “Gov. Kemp, Republican lawmakers who pushed this bill through, and every company that bankrolled them should be ashamed.”
Baumann said Thursday’s action will not deter voting rights advocates.
“We are more energized and enthusiastic than ever before to fight back against the racist forces of voter suppression,” he said.
The sweeping new legislation passed along party lines: 34-20 in the Senate and 100-75 in the House.
The new law significantly changes the way voting will be handled in Georgia. Here’s what it does:
- Creates a state elections board with potential power over local elections
- Requires photo ID for mail-in ballots
- Reduces early voting for runoffs elections
- Makes distributing food and drink to people waiting in line to vote a misdemeanor.
- Cuts the time between elections and runoffs from nine weeks to four weeks.
- Requires counties to have advanced voting on both Saturdays and the option of two Sundays that fall in the three-week period for primaries and general elections.
The bill, now law, was one of three omnibus measures being considered in the General Assembly.