Republicans in the state of Georgia muscled through a sweeping new law that will dramatically roll back access to the ballot box in the nation’s most hotly contested battleground state.
The new law, passed by both chambers of the state legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday, is designed specifically to address the controversies that engulfed the Peach State after the 2020 election, when Joe Biden narrowly beat Donald Trump and two new Democratic U.S. senators were elected from Georgia, tilting the balance of power in the chamber.
What’s in it?
It’s a potpourri of odious measures designed to make it harder for Georgians to vote and register, and easier for fringe groups to challenge their registration. It criminalizes “line-warming” or offering food and water to individuals waiting to vote, a practice that has become popular as the Georgia GOP has dramatically reduced the number of polling places over the past 10 years, increasing the amount of time voters — especially voters in mostly black precincts — must wait in line to cast their ballot. “It’s criminalizing the normal activities you do to take care of our friends and neighbors,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight, the anti-voter suppression organization co-founded by Stacey Abrams, says of the provision. “When our neighbors are out there in an hours-long line and the League of Women Voters can’t go deliver somebody a granola bar.”
The new law also allows for unlimited challenges to a voter’s registration — a tactic that has been used to racially profile voters, intimidate them from voting, or knock them off the voter rolls completely. The new provision, Groh-Wargo says, is “just opening an even worse Pandora’s box of race-based, ethnicity-based challenges.”
Among the new law’s other provisions are restrictions on mail-in voting. Voters will be required to provide either their driver’s license or state ID number, or a photocopy of their identification to cast a mail-in ballot. It also bans third-party groups from sending absentee-ballot applications to voters, and ends the use of portable polling sites, like the mobile voting buses used in Democratic Fulton County last cycle.
What does it have to do with Trump?
The new law basically codifies Trump’s grievances against Republican officials in the state who resisted his efforts to overturn the election there. You’ll recall that Georgia’s current Secretary of State, Brad Raffensberger, became the target of Trump’s fury when he deflected pressure from the former president to “find” enough votes to reverse his loss in the state. The new law strips the secretary of state, Georgia’s top elections official, of his seat and his role as chair of the state election board, and endows the state legislature with the power to fill three of that board’s five seats — essentially giving the legislature control over the certification of elections and voting rules in the state. The new law also empowers the state election board to suspend or replace local election officials and delay certification, making it potentially easier for them to meddle with results.
How soon could it become law?
It is law. Gov. Brian Kemp signed the 95-page bill on Thursday evening, less than two hours after it was passed by both houses of the state legislature. (“In my 11 years in the legislature, I never saw a bill approved at such speed,” Stacey Abrams tweeted. “This wasn’t efficiency. Republicans want to hide their shameful actions from public scrutiny.”)
“Significant reforms to our state elections were needed,” Kemp said after signing the bill. “There’s no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled, and those problems, understandably, led to a crisis of confidence in the ballot box here in Georgia.” Kemp is up for re-election as governor next fall.
In a move that drew comparisons to the Jim Crow era, Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon was arrested and forcibly removed from the state capitol while trying to watch the governor sign the bill into law on Thursday. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Cannon was “charged with ‘knowingly and intentionally’ knocking on the governor’s door during a bill signing and stomping on Officer L.T. Langford’s foot three times ‘during the apprehension and as she was being escorted out of the property.’”
“Why are you arresting her?” This Facebook Live video from @TWareStevens shows the moment authorities detained state Rep. Park Cannon as @GovKemp was behind those doors signing elections restrictions into law. #gapol pic.twitter.com/U1xMJ6tZrY
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) March 25, 2021
What happens next?
A coalition of organizations — the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise — has already filed a federal lawsuit challenging provisions of the law, declaring they violate both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. But it’s unlikely to be the only lawsuit challenging the law. “Once he signs, then it’s ripe for challenge in court and it will get litigated immediately,” Groh-Wargo says. Depending on what is being litigated, the lawsuit could temporarily halt the legislation from being implemented, she adds.
Is it popular?
The legislation passed along party lines — by a vote of 34 to 20 in the Senate, and 100 to 75 in the House — but according to research from the pollster TargetSmart, both the law itself and each individual provision it contains are wildly unpopular in the state. According to TargetSmart, 76 percent of Georgia voters oppose a provision that would allow the legislature to strip authority from the secretary of state and local election officials, while only 18 percent support it, and 77 percent of voters oppose the criminalization of giving food and water to voters waiting on line.
Can the federal government do anything about the new law?
President Biden slammed Georgia’s new law in his first press conference as president Thursday. “What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is,” Biden said. “It’s sick.”
The U.S. Senate is presently considering the For the People Act, already passed by the House, that would expand voting rights, strengthen campaign finance laws, and limit partisan gerrymandering. Under the current Senate rules, it would need 60 votes to pass. In the same press conference, Biden indicated his willingness to reform the filibuster in order to pass the legislation, which could prevent the most pernicious vote-suppressing provisions in the new Georgia law — and others being considered in state legislatures around the country. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators have introduced more than 250 bills that would make it harder to vote in 43 states — more than seven times the number of bills compared to the same point in 2020. Biden told reporters he had “an open mind” about changes to the filibuster, particularly on issues “that are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy like the right to vote.”
But the For the People Act, also known as S1, wouldn’t have the power to fix everything in the Georgia law — particularly the parts that would make it easier for state officials to interfere with local election boards. “If S1 passes, a lot of [the law’s provisions] on the voter-challenge side would be prevented,” Groh-Wargo says. “The state takeover stuff, that’s not addressed. The state legislature has power to do what it wants.”