ATLANTA – The Justice Department sued the state of Georgia Friday over passage of an election reform law it claims violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act by intentionally discriminating against Black voters.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the controversial legislation in March, voting along party lines, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law that same day.
“Recent changes in Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a news conference.
Garland and Kristen Clarke, the assistant attorney general overseeing the department’s Civil Rights Division, said the law was passed in the aftermath of a record voter turnout in last year’s elections in Georgia, particularly among absentee voters.
“The provisions we are challenging reduce access to absentee voting at each step of the process, pushing more Black voters to in-person voting, where they will be more likely than white voters to encounter long lines,” Clarke said.
Senate Bill 202 replaces the signature-match verification process for absentee ballots with an ID requirement. It also restricts the location of ballot drop boxes and prohibits non-poll workers from handing out food and drinks within 150 feet of voters standing in line.
The law’s critics have accused Republicans of passing the law in an effort to blunt the high voter turnout last November that saw President Joe Biden become the first Democrat to carry Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992 and that propelled Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to U.S. Senate runoff wins in January.
“We are happy to have the Biden administration join the fight to defend the very fabric of our democracy against Georgia’s reckless, unconstitutional Republican-led voter suppression laws, said Nse Ufot, CEO of The New Georgia Project Action Fund.
“These attacks are a direct backlash and whitelash against the progressive, multiracial, multigenerational, and multilingual coalition we built in Georgia that flipped the Peach State and secured a victory for President Biden and a Democratic Senate.”
“Brian Kemp and Georgia Republicans’ discriminatory anti-voting law violates Georgians’ civil rights, plain and simple,” added U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “It makes it harder for all Georgians to vote, and disproportionately harder for people of color and low-income voters to cast a ballot.”
Georgia Republican leaders came to the law’s defense, calling the lawsuit a politically motivated attempt aimed at a legitimate effort to restore election integrity in Georgia.
“The Biden administration continues to do the bidding of [2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee] Stacey Abrams and spreads more lies about Georgia’s election law,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “It is no surprise that they would operationalize their lies with the full force of the federal government. I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court.”
Kemp sounded equally confident during a late afternoon news conference in Savannah.
“Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and Merrick Garland don’t scare me,” he said. “When I was secretary of state, I sued the Obama Justice Department twice and won. I look forward to making it three for three.”
Clarke also criticized the General Assembly for rushing the bill through the legislative process. She complained that the three-page bill that passed the Georgia Senate ballooned within days to more than 90 pages when it went over to the state House of Representatives.
Garland said the Justice Department also is examining election laws other Republican-led states have passed in the wake of last year’s elections.
He urged Congress to reverse a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated a provision in the Voting Rights Act requiring states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to “preclear” any election law changes with the Civil Rights Division.