The bill was passed by both houses of law within hours before Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed it on Thursday evening.
By amending its electoral law, “Georgia will take another step to ensure that our elections are safe, accessible and fair,” he said.
Kemp, who is eligible for re-election next year, last year refused to give in to former President Donald Trump’s demands to undo Biden’s victory – earning Trump’s public condemnation. But on Thursday, Kemp said “alarming issues” in the 2020 election showed the need for change.
He predicted that critics of the new law would “threaten, boycott, sue, demonize, and team up with their friends in the national media, to name everything in the book.”
The new law introduces new requirements for identifying voters for postal ballot papers, empowers state officials to run local elections, restricts the use of ballot boxes, and makes it a crime to turn to voters for food and water.
“It’s like the Christmas tree of goodies for the suppression of voters,” said Senator Jen Jordan of the Democratic State in the Senate as lawmakers prepared to vote on the nearly 100-page bill on Thursday.
Republicans dismissed the measure, dubbed the 2021 Electoral Integrity Act, as necessary to build confidence in the post-2020 election. Trump repeatedly made unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
By Thursday evening, three constituencies had already filed a lawsuit against the new law: the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise Inc.
“In large part because of racial disparities in areas outside of voting – such as socioeconomic status, housing and employment opportunities – the Voter Suppression Act disproportionately affects black voters and interacts with those traces of discrimination in Georgia around the black voters to refuse. ” Equal opportunities to participate in the political process and / or to vote for a candidate of their choice, “the lawsuit says.
The package is part of a national Republican effort aimed at restricting access to the ballot box after a record turnout in the elections. In his first White House press conference Thursday, Biden said he would “do everything in his power” to halt efforts to restrict voting rights, saying that he considers the efforts in state law to be “un-American.”
Voting advocates say the state’s rapid-fire action – and plans in other Republican-controlled states to impose restrictions of their own – underscore the need for federal legislation to establish a national basis for voting rules.
Stacey Abrams, the founder of Fair Fight Action and a former candidate for Democratic governor in Georgia, said the state’s Republicans have shown that they intend to “revive Georgia’s dark past of racist electoral law.”
“Now, more than ever, Americans must demand federal measures to protect voting rights,” she said in a statement.
The Georgia bill has changed radically in the past few days – from a narrow, two-page bill to a comprehensive, all-inclusive package that went into law in just over a week. Black activists and religious leaders in the state held rallies threatening corporate boycotts in an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt their progress through the General Assembly
“They rammed this through as quickly as possible,” said Jonathan Diaz, election attorney at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington. “I suspect because you know that a lot of the provisions in this bill are not very popular.”
Proponents said they were alarmed at measures that would allow any Georgian to pose an unlimited number of voter registration and eligibility challenges, saying this could be a target for color voters. And Georgia Senate Democrats took action Thursday that sacked the Secretary of State as chairman of the state election committee and allowed lawmakers to install his replacement, giving lawmakers three out of five appointments.
Constituencies argue that granting the state new powers in state elections goes against the tradition of local scrutiny and could lead to a scenario in which state officials step in to prevent a country from confirming its election results.
Another provision shortens the discharge cycle from the current nine weeks to just four weeks
During Thursday’s floor debate, Republican MP Barry Fleming – a key architect of the new law – argued that it would “make the electoral process in the state more accountable”.
Republicans scaled back some restrictive provisions from previous iterations of the legislation, including a proposed repeal of absentee voting.
The bill is part of a larger effort by GOP-led lawmakers across the country to pass restrictive voting measures in key states such as Arizona, Michigan, and Florida. According to a review by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, lawmakers in 43 states passed more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions in February.
“This is nothing less than a concerted nationwide effort to restrict access to voting rights for everyday Americans, especially those of skin color and those who are frankly more likely to support Democrats,” said Diaz of the Campaign Legal Center.
Officials from Heritage Action for America – one of the national Republican groups working to restrict access to ballot papers in the name of “electoral integrity” – praised Kemp, the lawmaker, and the 20,000 conservative activists who lawmakers said had campaigned for the overhaul.
The new Georgian law makes “the state a role model for the rest of the country,” said the representatives of the cultural heritage.
The demographic change of the state had turned the long-standing republican stronghold into an important political battlefield in the past year.
Last November, Biden became the first Democrat to win the state in nearly three decades. A strong turnout in January helped send two Democrats to the US Senate and transfer control of the chamber to their party. One of these new senators, Raphael Warnock, won his seat in a special election and will vote again in 2022.
In this election, the voter will face major changes. Voters must apply for a postal vote 11 days before an election, not on the Friday before election day as is currently permitted.
And voters requesting postal votes must provide a copy of their ID or their Georgia driver’s license or state ID number in order to request and return the ballot. This also prohibits the State Secretary from sending unsolicited postal voting applications, as was the case before the 2020 primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic.