Two voting rights coalitions have filed separate lawsuits against a sweeping voter suppression law approved last week by Georgia Republicans that critics say "constitutes intentional discrimination" in violation of the U.S. constitution.
"The intent of this new law was to discriminate against minority and poor voters in Georgia."
—Jerry Gonzalez, GALEO
"Georgia state lawmakers are making it more difficult to vote, criminalizing ordinary voter assistance, and then lying to their own constituents to suggest it is for their own good," Damon Hewitt, acting president and executive director of Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said Monday.
Along with pushing back against GOP claims about the new law— signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp last Thursday night—Hewitt highlighted how provisions on early and absentee voting specifically target people of color. "These actions show that discriminatory voter suppression is alive and well," he said, "and it cannot stand."
The latest lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 202 was filed in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta by the Georgia NAACP, the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, the League of Women Voters of Georgia, the GALEO Latino Community Development Fund, Common Cause, and the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe.
Sunday's suit followed one (pdf) filed Thursday in the same court by the Black Voters Matter Fund, Rise, and the New Georgia Project—founded by voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, a former Democratic politician who narrowly lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Kemp, then Georgia's secretary of state.
"We promised to use every legal option available to us to fight back against S.B. 202 and our lawsuit does just that," said Rev. James Woodall, state president of Georgia NAACP. "The thinly veiled attempt to roll back the progress we have made to empower Georgians—to use their voices in the democratic process—creates an arbitrary law that does not improve voter confidence, secure election integrity, nor increase access to the ballot box."
"We will continue to stand for what's right on behalf of ALL Georgians," Woodall vowed. "The Georgia NAACP will continue to fight until every voter is able to freely and confidently participate in democracy."
As Kemp prepared to sign the bill Thursday, Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, explained that it "consolidates legislative leaders' control over Georgia's State Election Board. It allows state takeover of county elections offices, which includes the ability to certify future elections—and the ability to not certify them."
Dennis, who suggested that "Kemp will be an obvious beneficiary, in his 2022 run for reelection," added Monday that "it's easy to see the reason why" the measure "was rammed through the process without public participation or a fiscal analysis." According to her, "It's a partisan effort to maintain power during the 2022 elections."
The law also imposes what the latest suit calls "onerous and unnecessary ID requirements on voters," limits early voting and the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, prohibits sending out unsolicited absentee ballots to voters, and even criminalizes handing out food and water to voters who are stuck waiting in long lines.
"It's a partisan effort to maintain power during the 2022 elections."
—Aunna Dennis, Common Cause Georgia
"S.B. 202 is the culmination of a concerted effort to suppress the participation of Black voters and other voters of color by the Republican state Senate, state House, and governor," the complaint says, pointing to that state's recent increases in voters of color and election analyses showing that they "usually provide strong support to Democratic candidates."
"The demographic changes and the voting patterns of voters of color have resulted in evolving political change in Georgia," the complaint continues. "Unable to stem the tide of these demographic changes or change the voting patterns of voters of color, these officials have resorted to attempting to suppress the vote of Black voters and other voters of color in order to maintain the tenuous hold that the Republican Party has in Georgia."
"In other words, these officials are using racial discrimination as a means of achieving a partisan end," the filing says. "These efforts constitute intentional discrimination in violation of the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."
The earlier suit similarly states that "these unjustified measures will individually and cumulatively operate to impose unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote, to deny or abridge the voting rights of Black Georgians, and to deny Black voters in Georgia an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates of their choice in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."
Asked by reporters on Friday how the White House could respond to the development in Georgia, President Joe Biden said that "we don't know quite exactly what we can do at this point. The Justice Department's taking a look as well." Critics of the law, including Biden, have described it as "Jim Crow in the 21st century."
"The intent of this new law was to discriminate against minority and poor voters in Georgia," said GALEO chief executive officer Jerry Gonzalez. "Our communities will stand together to work against these Jim Crow tactics pushing to take our state backwards."
While S.B. 202 has gained national attention, it is among over 250 measures in 43 states that Republican legislators have introduced this year. National GOP voter suppression efforts have fueled calls for the Democrat-controlled Congress to urgently pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.