Georgia Republicans introduced sweeping restrictions on voting on Thursday in a new law that fundamentally alters the way the state runs elections.
The law, signed by governor Brian Kemp, transfers power away from election officials and into the hands of Republican lawmakers, reduces the number of places where people can vote and makes it a criminal offence to provide food and water to people waiting in voting lines.
It constitutes part of a nationwide effort by Republican state lawmakers to roll back voting rights in the wake of Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election with false claims of voter fraud. GOP legislators in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills aiming to restrict voting in the time since the election.
Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who founded an organisation to combat voter suppression, condemned the bill as “racially targeted.”
“Georgia Republicans want to hide their shameful actions from public scrutiny. It’s Jim Crow in a suit and tie: cutting off access, adding restrictions, encouraging more ‘show me your papers’ actions to challenge a citizen’s right to vote.”
She added that the law “suppresses voters, criminalises compassion and represents a massive power grab of election authority from local and state officials.”
The 2018 election in which Mr Abrams ran for governor was beset by long lines at polling places, an issue that disproportionately impacted Black voters. At that time, Mr Kemp was both the secretary of state in charge of administering the election and a candidate.
The introduction of the new election law follows an intensive and ultimately failed campaign by Mr Trump to overturn the results of the presidential election in the state, which reached its peak when the then president pressured secretary of state Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” in his favour during a phone call that was later leaked to the Washington Post. Georgia prosecutors have opened a criminal inquiry into Trump’s efforts to pressure election officials centered around that call.
The law strips powers from Mr Raffensperger — the official in charge of administering elections who defied Trump’s entreaties to change the result — removing his role as the chair of the state election board. An appointee of the legislature will take his place and the board would be given new powers to remove and replace county election officials.
Early voting hours will be reduced under the new rules, as will the number of ballot drop off boxes, and new voter ID requirements will be added for people who choose to vote by mail.
The bill passed the House 100-75, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. Governor Kemp signed the bill into law on Thursday evening, claiming he was “taking another step to making our elections fair and secure.”
“There’s no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled, and those problems led to a crisis of confidence in the ballot box here inGeorgia,” Mr Kemp said. A full audit of Georgia’s elections found no evidence of widespread fraud, contrary to Mr Trump’s repeated false claims.
Joe Biden joined condemnation of Republican efforts to restrict voting in his first formal press conference since becoming president on Thursday, calling the push “un-American” and “sick.”
“Deciding, in some states, that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote? Deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work? Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots except under the most rigid circumstances? Republican voters I know find this despicable,” he said.
"I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle."
Democratic Rep Rhonda Burnough said the bill was based on lies told by Republicans after last year’s election.
“Georgians turned out in record-breaking numbers because they could access the ballot,” Ms Burnough said. “Lies upon lies were told about our elections in response, and now this bill is before us built on those same lies.”
Republicans, meanwhile, said the bill was aimed at ensuring the integrity of the election process.
Alan Powell, a Republican lawmaker from northeast Georgia, said the aim of the bill was to reform Georgia’s election system.
“What we’ve done in this bill in front of you is we have cleaned up the workings, the mechanics of our election system,” he said.
“Show me the suppression,” Mr Powell added. “There is no suppression in this bill.”
— With Reuters
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies