Georgia voting overhaul provokes fury from Democrats
Georgia’s far-reaching voting bill signed into law Thursday is sparking fury among Democrats and voting rights activists who see the legislation as a thinly veiled effort by Republicans to rewrite the state’s election laws after a spate of GOP losses in recent months.
The bill, which sailed through the General Assembly on Thursday afternoon in a party-line vote before it was quickly signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R), alters wide swaths of Georgia’s elections laws and tightens elements of the voting process that helped President Biden carry the state in November and sent two Democrats to the Senate in January.
Republicans, who control both chambers of the Georgia state legislature, argue that the new law is a necessary step toward restoring confidence in the state’s elections after a series of controversies surrounding the 2020 presidential election and former President Trump’s baseless claims that widespread voter fraud and systemic irregularities had tainted the results.
But Democrats see a more nefarious play by Republicans, accusing the GOP of a systematic effort to suppress and disenfranchise voters, especially the people of color and young voters who helped propel Democrats’ recent statewide victories in the state.
“If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s that the Georgia election was certainly free of any consequential fraud,” Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who unseated former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in a January runoff election, said on MSNBC. “We counted the votes, not once, not twice, but three times.”
“So what’s the purpose of all of this? They don’t like the outcome and so this is democracy in reverse, where politics have decided instead of the voters picking their representatives, the representatives have a right to cherry-pick their voters.”
Warnock was in Atlanta on Thursday night to visit Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon (D), who was arrested earlier in the evening for knocking on Kemp’s office door as he announced that he had signed the voting bill into law. Cannon has been charged with obstruction of law enforcement and disrupting General Assembly proceedings, and was released on bond late Thursday.
The legislation has already spurred a lawsuit from voting rights groups challenging several provisions in the law, including a requirement that voters provide a driver’s license or state ID card number to cast absentee ballots and new limits on the use of drop boxes.
Those groups, which include the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and student-led Rise, Inc., are being represented by Marc Elias, the elections attorney who has spearheaded some of the Democrats’ highest-profile voting-related litigation.
There may be more lawsuits to come. New York Attorney General Letitia James said that her office was looking into potential legal action around the new voting law.
“Attacks against the right to vote continue to threaten our democracy, and the voting restrictions passed in Georgia are deeply troubling. My office is examining all legal options to take on these anti-democratic measures.”
There’s also backlash coming from the film industry, which has a huge presence in Georgia. On Thursday, James Mangold, the director of films including “Walk the Line” and “Ford vs. Ferrari,” announced on Twitter that he would no longer direct films in Georgia because of the new voting law.
It’s unclear if other directors, actors or production companies will follow Mangold’s lead. But Georgia has faced similar threats before. In 2019, a handful of prominent studios, including Netflix and Disney, threatened to leave the state if a controversial abortion law, known as the “heartbeat” bill, went into effect. That law was eventually struck down in federal court.
Georgia isn’t the only state where GOP lawmakers are seeking to overhaul their election laws. Dozens of state legislatures are considering proposals to tighten voting rules.
But the law in Georgia is particularly notable. The state is the first major battleground to overhaul its election laws after the 2020 presidential election. What’s more, critics of the measures say they hearken back to the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation and sought to disenfranchise Black voters throughout the South.
Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate and voting rights activist, dubbed the new voting measures as “Jim Crow 2.0.”
“Georgia Republicans’ shameful efforts to suppress the vote and seize electoral power through SB 202 demonstrate how critical the fight for voting rights remains,” she said in a statement. “Now, more than ever, Americans must demand federal action to protect voting rights as we continue to fight against these blatantly unconstitutional efforts that are nothing less than Jim Crow 2.0.”
Abrams, who is seen as a top contender for governor in 2022, notably raised concerns about voter suppression in 2018 after her narrow loss to Kemp in that year’s gubernatorial election.
Her outside efforts to register and mobilize what has been dubbed “the new American majority” — people of color, women and young voters — in the 2020 election has been praised by Democrats as crucial to their recent victories in Georgia.
Activists and grassroots organizers expressed concern that the progress Democrats have been in registering and turning out new voters could be eroded by the new voting law, casting it as a direct response to the party’s successful efforts to flip the White House and Senate.
Chris Baumann, the Southern Region director of the Service Employees International Union Workers United, called the bill’s rapid passage and signing “nothing more than a racist and malicious attempt to silence Black, Latinx and [Asian/Pacific Islander] communities” after those voters turned out in droves in 2020.
“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,” Baumann said. “They want to ensure it never happens again.”
Georgia is set to hold a series of competitive elections in 2022. Kemp, who ran afoul of Trump last year after he refused the former president’s pleas to overturn the election results, will be on the ballot next year, as will Secretary of State Brad Raffensperper, who is facing a primary challenge from Trump-backed Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.).
Warnock, who just won his seat in January, will also face a bid for his first full term in the Senate in 2022. He’s among the GOP’s top targets as the party looks to recapture control of the upper chamber.
While Republicans are hoping that the new election laws will help boost their political prospects in 2022 and beyond, some expressed concern that the measures could further motivate Democratic voters next year.
“Stacey Abrams has been out there saying for years that Republicans are trying to keep you from voting. And you know what? Those people showed up to vote,” said a Georgia GOP consultant, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the new law’s impact on the state’s politics. “Well, now the Democrats have something concrete to show people where they can say ‘see, we were right.’ ”
Still, conservatives have raced to defend the new election law, pushing back against the notion that the measure will make it more difficult to vote.
Loeffler, who launched a new organization dubbed Greater Georgia last month that seeks to counter Democrats’ voter registration efforts, said that quick changes to election procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 had sowed distrust in the system among many voters.
She said that her state’s elections overhaul will allow Georgians “to vote with more confidence for generations to come.”
“2020 saw rapid, inconsistent, and unprecedented changes to our elections that eroded voters’ confidence,” she said. “With the passage of S.B. 202, we are expanding access to the polls while restoring faith in our elections.”