Democrats sound the alarm over sweeping changes to Georgia voting laws
Hours after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a controversial new measure into law that tightens restrictions on voting, Democrats condemned it as a racially targeted, brazen attempt to boost Republicans’ chances in future elections.
“If these laws were in place in 2020, Donald Trump would have been able to stop the certification of elections and overturn the results,” Hillary Holley, organizing director of Fair Fight, a grassroots nonprofit that encourages voter participation, told Yahoo News Friday. “[Republicans in Georgia] are trying to change the fundamental way elections work and that shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
Former Democratic House Leader Stacey Abrams on Thursday referred to the new law as “Jim Crow 2.0,” in reference to the historical ordinances and legal framework that were put in place to insure racial segregation.
“In my 11 years in the legislature, I never saw a bill approved at such speed,” Abrams tweeted. “This wasn’t efficiency. Republicans want to hide their shameful actions from public scrutiny. Instead, they will see sunlight and legal action.”
In a statement on Friday, Biden also invoked the legacy of Reconstruction. “This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” Biden said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “It must end. We have a moral obligation to act.”
Republicans, meanwhile, made the case the changes were necessary to root out voter fraud, despite the fact no evidence of significant impropriety had been found in the 2020 election in Georgia.
“With Senate Bill 202, Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair," Gov. Brian Kemp said Thursday shortly after signing the bill.
Former President Donald Trump released a statement Friday congratulating the Georgia state Legislature on “changing their voter rules and regulations.”
“They learned from the travesty of the 2020 President Election, which can never be allowed to happen again,” Trump said in his statement. “Too bad these changes could not have been done sooner.”
Democrats say the law was specifically targeted to suppress the African American vote, and progressive groups have already submitted a lawsuit to challenge it in court. They also know that Georgia’s won’t be the last in what they see as a systematic effort to tailor the electorate to their advantage. States like Arizona, Iowa, Texas and Michigan have also proposed bills that would limit voting rights, and the way Georgia Republicans went about passing the legislation is being scrutinized.
Late Thursday, Republican lawmakers in Georgia passed Senate Bill 202 in the House and Senate, despite objections by Democrats. The bill imposes increased voter ID requirements, limits the number of drop boxes across the state and gives state-level officials the power to take over county election boards, possibly allowing GOP officials to to decide the ballot count in Democratic strongholds. The bill, which was signed into law by Kemp just over an hour after it was passed in the General Assembly, also criminalizes passing out food or drinks to voters waiting in line.
After record turnout for Black and Latino voters in the November general election, and again in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections in January, Democrats in the state say that Republicans want to impose increased restrictions that limit access to the polls. Republican lawmakers who passed the measure argue that they did so to address voter integrity concerns.
“Our goal is to ensure that voters in Georgia have confidence in the elections process,” Republican state Sen. Max Burns said to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is a solid step in the right direction to provide voter integrity in Georgia.”
Adding to the frustration of many critics of the new bill, on Thursday evening, Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon, a Democrat, was arrested and forcibly removed from the state Capitol after knocking on Kemp’s office door while he signed SB 202. The entire ordeal was captured on video.
Cannon was charged with two felonies that included felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting a general assembly session, according to the Fulton County Department of Public Safety website.
Cannon was taken to Fulton County Jail and released late Thursday night. If the charges stay, Cannon could lose her own right to vote.
“I will not stand by while our voting rights are threatened across this state, the state I swore an oath to represent with integrity, honesty, and respect for the millions of people who live and work in this community,” Cannon said in a statement Friday posted to her Facebook page.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, one of Georgia’s two newest senators, visited Cannon on Thursday in jail and was there when she was released. He called the saga a “very desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed these sentiments during Friday’s White House briefing, saying “anyone who saw that video would be deeply concerned,” but kept the focus on the law being passed.
“It should not be harder — it should be easier to vote,” Psaki said. “We should not put limitations in place. … There should be a range of restrictions that should be undone, not put back in place.”
In response to the Jim Crow comparisons, Kemp released his own statement, saying, “There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot — every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person.”
With the measure signed into law, Democrats must hope for a favorable outcome in the courts or for Congress to pass H.R. 1, a bill passed in the House that aims to expand voting and could overrule state measures like Georgia’s.
“Yesterday was a very dark day in Georgia, but I don’t want people to be distraught,” Holley said. “We prevented things that [were initially on the table], but we have to keep fighting.”
Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; Photos: Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images, Leigh Vogel/Getty Images
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