From Coca-Cola snub to Major League Baseball pullout: Why are people so angry about Georgia's new voting laws?

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Josie Ensor
·8 min read
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Protester holds up a sign on the steps Georgia State Capitol as new voter law is passed - AP
Protester holds up a sign on the steps Georgia State Capitol as new voter law is passed - AP

The new Georgia elections law signed by the state’s Republican governor has earned an unprecedented backlash from civil rights groups, corporations, corners of Hollywood, and a pointed denunciation from President Joe Biden.

The far-reaching new legislation, which bans people from handing out food or water to voters waiting in line and allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to remove and replace county election officials among other measures, has drawn an intense national scrutiny.

Critics claim the move will disenfranchise black, disabled, and other minorities, and lead to voter suppression in Georgia, a usually Republican state which flipped blue to help President Joe Biden win the 2020 election.

Former President Donald Trump spent months after losing his re-election bid falsely claiming that his defeat was the result of widespread fraud, focusing much of his ire on the Peach State. He failed in dozens of legal challenges.

Georgia is the first presidential battleground to impose new restrictions following Mr Biden's victory in the state, however, lawmakers in 47 states this year have introduced 361 bills imposing new restrictions on voting.

What does the new law actually state?

The new law will give the Republican-controlled state government new power to assert control over the conduct of elections in Democratic counties.

Prior to the passing of the law, the secretary of state served as chair of the State Election Board. The role was demoted to a non-voting member of the board. A new chairperson will be elected by the General Assembly.

State Rep. Rose Cannon was arrested by Capitol police after she attempted to knock on the door of the Gov. Brian Kemp office during his remarks after he signed into law - AP
State Rep. Rose Cannon was arrested by Capitol police after she attempted to knock on the door of the Gov. Brian Kemp office during his remarks after he signed into law - AP

The move allows a Republican-controlled board to temporarily take over local election offices.

Some critics also suggest the provision is an act of revenge against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who would not abide by Mr Trump's request to overturn the results of the election.

This provision is a concern to activists in large blue counties like Atlanta's Fulton County, whose election administration has been attacked by Mr Trump and other Republicans.

Fulton saw its highest voter turnout last year since 1992, with more Democrats turning up than Republicans.

It will also limit how many drop boxes for mail-in ballots each county can have, how many hours and days the boxes can be open, and where they can be located. A record number of people voted by absentee ballot last year, and the majority voted Democrat.

Governor Brian Kemp greets supporters after he speaks at the State Capitol in Atlanta about Major League Baseball's decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta - AP
Governor Brian Kemp greets supporters after he speaks at the State Capitol in Atlanta about Major League Baseball's decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta - AP

The law says that each county can't have more than one drop box per early voting site or per 100,000 active registered voters, whichever number is smaller. This provision will dramatically reduce the number of drop boxes available in some large counties.

Fulton County, which has a population of more than one million, says it would go from 38 drop boxes in the November election to eight in the future.

Absentee ballots can now only be sent out to voters 29 days before an election, down from the previous 49 days. Voters will now be allowed to request an absentee ballot a maximum of 78 days before the election, down from 180 days.

By and large, Democrats were much more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, who turned up in larger numbers on Election Day.

One of the most bizarre new laws passed makes it a misdemeanor for people to give or offer "any money or gifts," including "food and drink," to any voter within a polling place, within 150 feet of the building housing a polling place.

This would make it much less comfortable for those who live in areas where the voting queues are much longer.

A ProPublica study of Georgia voting during the primaries last year found that the average wait time if you were at a polling place where at least 90 per cent of voters were white was six minutes. At a polling station where 90 per cent of voters were black, the wait time was 51 minutes - an eight-fold difference.

Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against House Bill 289 in front of the state capitol in Atlanta, Georgia - Shutterstock
Demonstrators hold signs during a protest against House Bill 289 in front of the state capitol in Atlanta, Georgia - Shutterstock

For example, Fulton County, which has one of the highest percentage of black residents in the state, added nearly 250,000 voters, but reduced the number of its polling stations.

The law significantly also shrinks both the overall length of runoff campaigns and the early voting period for runoffs from nine weeks to four. Democrats won both of the US Senate runoffs held in January 2021, which gave them control of the chamber and handed the GOP a surprise upset.

Who supports these measures?

Backers of the new law include senior Republicans, state officials, Mr Trump and his circle. Brain Kemp, the state’s Republican governor, has been one of its main champions.

They have argued the changes will restore voters' confidence in the election process and make elections more secure.

What has the reaction been?

Major Georgia employers Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines have spoken out against the law and Major League Baseball (MLB) said it could no longer host the 2021 All-Star Game in Georgia.

Coca-Cola Co Chief Executive James Quincey called the law "unacceptable" and a "step backwards." Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said: "The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 election."

On Monday, Will Smith declared he was pulling production of his film Emancipation out of Georgia in protest. The film, about a runaway slave, was the largest and most high-profile Hollywood production to leave the state so far.

Workers load an All-Star sign onto a trailer after it was removed from Truist Park in Atlanta - AP
Workers load an All-Star sign onto a trailer after it was removed from Truist Park in Atlanta - AP

“At this moment in time the nation is coming to terms with its history and is attempting to eliminate vestiges of institutional racism to achieve true racial justice,” he said in a statement. "We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access."

A joint statement from executives at nearly 200 companies, including HP, Microsoft, PayPal, Target, Twitter, Uber and Under Armour, took aim at the legislation "threatening to make voting more difficult" and said "elections are not improved" when lawmakers impose new barriers to voting.

Mr Biden has called it "outrageous", "un-American" and “unconstitutional”.

In response to the corporate pull-outs, Mr Trump has called for a boycott of Delta and Coca-Cola (though he has since been pictured drinking a can of his favourite beverage).

Georgia's Republican-controlled House voted to strip Delta of a tax break worth tens of millions of dollars annually for their criticism though the action was rendered moot after the GOP Senate failed to take it up before the legislative session adjourned.

Greg Abbott, Texas Governor, said Monday that he would not throw the ceremonial first pitch as planned at the Texas Rangers' home opener, citing MLB’s decision.

Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Leader, lashed out at corporate America on Monday, warning CEOs to stay out of the debate.

Donald Trump, who claims without evidence the 2020 election was "rigged", has said the legislation doesn't go far enough - AFP
Donald Trump, who claims without evidence the 2020 election was "rigged", has said the legislation doesn't go far enough - AFP

In a sign of a growing rift in the decades-old alliance between the conservative party and corporations, Mr McConnell said: "My advice to the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics. Don't pick sides in these big fights.

"Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order," Mr McConnell warned.

Big business has always been a part of US politics, however. Corporations have long thrown more campaign donations to business-friendly Republican candidates and office-holders.

Is voter fraud really a problem?

Independent reviews have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is rare in the US, and state and federal probes found no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election which the Republican Mr Trump lost to Democrat Mr Biden.

Mr Trump requested a number of recounts in states like Georgia where the result was close. Mr Biden’s victory in the state was reaffirmed three times.

Which other states are considering similar moves?

Some of the bills in Democratic-controlled states such as Washington, one of the first states to implement all-mail voting, have little chance of passage.

But others are steaming ahead: One proposal in Arizona would require mail ballots to be postmarked by the Thursday before Election Day, even if they arrive at election offices before polls close.

In Alabama, a proposal is under consideration to eliminate straight-ticket voting, which critics said is yet another example of a measure that would create longer lines.

Legal scholars, however, say even if these laws pass, they will be difficult to defend in court.