Voting rights groups file federal suit challenging Georgia’s new voting law

    Top Republican Georgia legislators joined Gov. Brian Kemp at the signing of Georgia's controversial voting bill. Photo from Office of Gov. Brian Kemp

    A prominent national election attorney and several voting rights groups are asking a federal judge to stop Georgia from enforcing its sweeping new voting law, which they argue will disenfranchise minorities, the disabled and other marginalized groups. 

    Attorney Marc Elias, the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and the student organization Rise filed a lawsuit Thursday evening in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia asking a judge to rule against a multitude of provisions in the Republican-backed “Election Integrity Act of 2021” for violating the federal Voting Rights Act and other rights.  

    Republican lawmakers Thursday resoundingly voted in favor of the nearly 100-page Senate Bill 202 before Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed off on  the overhaul they said will restore confidence in the election system.

    But the lawsuit claims Republicans are rolling back voting rights after recent election setbacks despite the Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger vouching for the integrity of the 2020 presidential election and multiple recounts confirming Democrat Joe Biden’s close win over Donald Trump.

    The suit claims Georgia’s new law disenfranchises voters because it requires I.D. to vote absentee, restricts the use of absentee drop boxes, makes it a crime for volunteers to pass out water to people waiting in lines, and disqualifies the majority of out-of-precinct provisional ballots.

    Elias, who served as an attorney for the Biden campaign, said the sweeping legislation is another example of the lengths Republican officials in Georgia and other states are going to make voting less accessible.

    “We know that these laws are aimed at disenfranchising Black voters and young voters,” Elias said during an interview on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show. “The role of the courts are to protect fundamental rights when politicians fail them and right now, Republican politicians are failing voters and failing Democracy.” 

    Republicans reject the claims that the new law imposes modern Jim Crow restrictions on absentee and early voting and through other measures that limit access to the ballot box. 

    The governor and other GOP supporters of the election overhaul say the legislation makes absentee drop boxes a permanent election fixture for the first time, secures the absentee system by adding new vote-by-mail I.D. requirements, mandates an extra weekend voting day, and requires more public notice when polling locations are changed.

    Kemp said he expected a court battle over Senate Bill 202 and he said fighting to preserve the law will be just the latest election legal challenge that he tackles after he took on several as secretary of state before becoming governor.

    “Despite media outrage and relentless attacks from some with a financial or political agenda, I led the fight to aggressively investigate all allegations of voter fraud and follow the law to keep our voter rolls clean,” Kemp said Thursday night. “I lost count of how many times I defended our voter I.D. laws in court against those who wanted to endanger the integrity of our elections.”

    Meanwhile, as the first lawsuit testing Georgia’s new election laws makes its way through federal court, attention is growing on another election battleground in Washington, D.C.

    That’s where Biden and Democratic members of Congress are pushing for the passage of H.R. 1, an extensive bill that includes protections for voter rights that are undone in the state legislation Georgia lawmakers just passed.

    In a USA Today op-ed published Friday, Raffensperger criticized potential federal legislation that would ban photo I.D. requirements for absentee voting and institute a host of other changes he said will make it harder for states and counties to run elections.

    “The fundamental problem with federal election legislation, and the main reason the United States Constitution leaves election administration to the states, is that federal legislators often have no idea how elections are actually run in each state,” Raffensperger wrote. “As a result, they choose policies that create chaos in elections administration that can overwhelm county elections officials.”

    Stanley Dunlap
    Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.