Georgia became the first state to impose new voting rights restrictions under the Biden administration Thursday. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law the legislation that sets new voter ID requirements for absentee ballots, limits ballot drop boxes, and makes it illegal to give food and drinks — even water — to people waiting in line to vote.
Apparently motivated by fear over President Joe Biden's victory in Georgia, as well as the Senate wins by Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, the law was passed by Republican lawmakers with the stated interest being that it would provide, said Kemp, "another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible, and fair." Kemp also cited alleged "alarming issues" with the 2020 presidential election as the reason to pass a sweeping crackdown on voting rights in the state, which will make voting even more difficult for Georgia's large Black population. The fact that this legislation is being passed after Georgia turned blue in the presidential election for the first time in decades is no coincidence — the Democratic wins were thanks to community organizing efforts led by Black women, after all.
The fact that these laws are specifically designed to suppress working-class and Black voters, who make up one-third of Georgia’s population and tend to overwhelmingly vote Democratic, is enraging. More rigid ID requirements on their own will always impact Black voters more harshly. According to a 2020 report on voter suppression from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, 25% of Black voting-age citizens nationally did not have a current government-issued photo ID, compared to 8% of white voting-age citizens.
"Rather than grappling with whether their ideology is causing them to fail, they are instead relying on what has worked in the past," said voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. When she ran for governor in Georgia in 2018, Abrams centered voter suppression in her campaign. "Instead of winning new voters, you rig the system against their participation, and you steal the right to vote."
In an interview with The Guardian, Abrams added that legislation like this one is a response to "the big lie, to the disproven, discredited and, sadly, the blood-spilled lie of voter fraud" perpetuated by former President Donald Trump and the Republican Party in the 2020 election. "And they are responding to it by actually doing what the insurrectionists sought, doing what the liars asked for."
Faith leaders who sought a meeting with Kemp also called the law racist. Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees all African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia, said he told Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, "these bills were not only voter suppression, but they were in fact racist, and they are an attempt to turn back time to Jim Crow."
Further, Georgia Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon was arrested on Thursday at the Capitol. Cannon faces a charge of obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and a second charge of disrupting general assembly sessions or other meetings of members, even though all she can be seen doing is knocking on Kemp's office door. The state representative said she was actually arrested for "fighting voter suppression." In one video of the arrest, Cannon can be heard yelling, "There is no reason for me to be arrested. I am a legislator!"
Georgia isn't the only state where Republicans are bowing to the demands of far-right conservatives who still falsely believe that Trump lost the presidential election due to widespread voter fraud. Republicans passed a similar law in Iowa and are working to pass similar restrictions in Arizona, Florida, and Texas. Such laws will continue to disenfranchise Black voters and voters of color.
Moreover, as voting restrictions at the state level are underway, House Democrats are bringing the fight over voting rights to the federal level with legislation that seeks to expand voter protections. The omnibus voting, ethics, and campaign finance bill seeks to weaken restrictive state voter ID laws, mandate automatic voter registration, expand vote-by-mail and early voting, and restore voting rights to people formerly convicted of felonies, The New York Times reports.
The bill was pushed through the House on Wednesday with a 220 to 210 vote mostly along party lines, in what is becoming a national fight over voting rights as Republicans push laws to further suppress Black voters following Trump's lies about the election.