US Justice Department challenges Georgia voting rules
Attorney General Merrick Garland (AFP)

The US Justice Department announced Friday it was suing the state of Georgia over new election laws it charged would discriminate against African Americans.

The laws were passed in March by the Republican-dominated state legislature after Democrat Joe Biden stunned Republican president Donald Trump by capturing Georgia in the November 2020 election, helped in part by a strong turnout of Black voters.

The new laws were passed with discriminatory intent with little study or debate, and would make voting harder in largely Black precincts compared to areas dominated by white populations, the department charged.

"The rights of all citizens to vote are the central pillars of our democracy," said Attorney General Merrick Garland.

"Our complaint alleges that recent changes to 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," Garland said.

He said the department was studying new voting legislation in other states and would also sue if constitutional violations were seen.

"We will not hesitate to act," he said.

The decision to sue in federal court put the department on a collision course with several Republican-led states attempting to enact new voting laws since last year's election.

If the department wins, the laws are judged illegal -- but the states can appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. Voting practices in the United States are mostly governed by individual states, as long as they respect constitutional equal rights principles.

The coronavirus pandemic in the middle of an election year saw many states expand early voting and voting by mail, making it easier for the public to obtain ballots and deliver them.

While that benefitted both parties, some Republicans including Trump believe it was to their disadvantage, and have pushed for tighter restrictions on how, when and where to vote.

Trump continues to allege fraud in the Georgia, but despite reviews, investigations and recounts, no significant fraud or irregularity has been uncovered.

Earlier this week the Biden administration failed in an effort to pass legislation in Congress to protect voting rights and expand ballot access.

Unified Republicans in the narrowly split Senate blocked the legislation from going ahead.

Garland also announced that the Justice Department is ordering federal prosecutors around the country to prosecute cases of threats against voting officials and poll volunteers, which he said had seen a "dramatic increase."