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Critics of the law have argued that it will make it harder for people – particularly Black Americans, who predominantly vote for the Democratic Party – to vote.
In the 2020 election, the state of Georgia voted for a Democratic president for the first time since 1992. Two months later, the state’s Senate runoff election resulted in two Democrats simultaneously representing the state for the first time in nearly two decades. To many, it was a surprising outcome in a state that had traditionally been considered a “red state.”
Democrats chalked up the victories in Georgia to a successful get-out-the-vote campaign that focused on getting Black voters to the polls. Republicans and former President Donald Trump, however, have claimed that the result in Georgia (and other red-turned-blue states) was the result of election fraud.
Despite no evidence for such claims, last week, the state’s Republican-controlled general assembly passed the “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” which updates the state’s voting laws. The lawmakers say the new laws will make it easier to count votes in future elections and ensure voters can trust that election results are legitimate.
Critics of the law, however, have argued that it is designed to make it harder for people – particularly Black Americans, who predominantly vote for the Democratic Party – to vote. While Georgia isn’t the only Republican-controlled state changing its voting laws, the passage of this law is sure to set up a legal battle that could determine the future of voting laws for the entire country.
The Georgia “Election Integrity Act of 2021”
On Thursday, March 25, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the “Election Integrity Act of 2021” into law. The 95-page act amends or adds to Georgia Code Title 21, officially updating the state’s voting laws.
As stated in the act, the rationale for these changes was “a significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems, with many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter suppression and many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud.” The act looks to address these concerns by streamlining the process for the purpose of “promoting uniformity in voting.”
As such, many of the changes involve creating restrictions for early voting and distribution of funds so that all the counties and voting districts operate under the same rules. Other rules revise who can request absentee ballots and how they are collected and counted. Citing the difficulties the state faced in counting absentee ballots, these changes limit their use in future elections.
In apparent response to the criticism Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger received from Republicans following the 2020 election, the act replaced the secretary of state on the State Election Board with a chairperson to be nominated by the state’s House of Representatives. Raffensperger, a Republican, earned the ire of Trump and his supporters when he contradicted their claims of widespread voter fraud.
The act also gives the State Election Board more authority to intervene in local jurisdictions, including the ability to remove municipal superintendents as it sees fit.
Other changes include the creation of a hotline for reporting suspected election fraud and the allowance of government officials to call for a performance review of local election officials. It also restricts local election boards so they can only receive funding from the state or federal government, which effectively outlaws outside funding from political interest groups.
Criticism of the Georgia law
According to the act, the changes to the voting laws are designed to make it “easy to vote and hard to cheat.”
Critics of the law, though, say they do exactly the opposite.
Among those critics is President Joe Biden who called the new laws “Jim Crow in the 21st Century,” stating that the laws were specifically designed to effectively disenfranchise Black and other minority voters.
One of the more controversial rule changes is one that would prevent volunteers from bringing food or water to people waiting in long lines to vote. The rationale for this change is “Protecting electors from improper interference, political pressure, or intimidation while waiting in line to vote is of paramount importance to protecting the election system and ensuring elector confidence.”
Critics have argued this change is aimed directly at nonwhite voters, particularly Black citizens, who are far more likely to live in areas with fewer polling places and, as such, longer voting lines. The critics believe these voters will be discouraged from voting in person by these changes, as the time it takes to vote in some of these locations can be five hours or more.
At the same time, the new laws restrict who can request absentee ballots, makes the process for requesting the ballots more complicated and limits the period in which such ballots can be requested. The law also makes it easier for election officials to challenge absentee ballots.
The law further restricts how many drop boxes can be created for the return of absentee boxes and requires they be placed in official election offices and early voting locations.
Critics contend these changes in the law will make it harder for people who can’t easily vote in person to vote.
The creators of the law, however, counter that the laws are designed to ensure more public trust in absentee voting. With the litany of questionable voting fraud claims following the 2020 election, many voters still believe there were numerous fraudulent absentee ballots cast. However, a postelection investigation, led by Raffensperger, found no such fraud.
Calls to boycott Georgia
There was swift anger at the law’s passage from Democrats and voting right activists who allege the law was specifically designed to make it harder for nonwhite citizens to vote.
There have been calls for boycotts of the state, with athletes and companies being pressured to no longer pursue activities in the state. One of the first organized boycotts is focused on Coca-Cola, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and is one of the state’s largest companies.
At the same time, legal experts say there may be grounds for challenging the law if it can be shown to specifically affect minority voters. Legal challenges have already been filed and it is believed the newly appointed United States Attorney General, Merrick Garland, will also use the power of the Department of Justice to sue the state.
Democrats in Congress are also looking to pass the “For the People Act,” which would establish federal laws to make voting easier, including allowing for national automatic voter registration. The act has already passed in the House, but it is being strongly challenged by Senate Republicans and is unlikely to pass unless the Democrats are completely unified and bypass the filibuster.
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