Georgia NAACP and Voting Rights Groups Sue State Officials Over New Law

The plaintiffs allege Republicans’ introduction of the legislation was politically and racially motivated after recent election losses.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballot early at the Bell Auditorium in Augusta, Ga., on Oct 12, 2020. (Michael Holahan/The Augusta Chronicle via AP, File)

ATLANTA (CN) — The Georgia chapter of the NAACP and other voting rights groups on Sunday filed a federal lawsuit against state election officials over a controversial new law that places restrictions on voting, saying it is a politically motivated attempt by Republicans to suppress the minority vote.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, a Republican, leads the list of defendants that include members of the state election board.

The NAACP is joined by plaintiffs Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, League of Women’s Voters of Georgia, Galeo Latino Community Development Fund, Common Cause, and the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe. The complaint was filed in the Northern District of Georgia.

“The provisions of SB 202, viewed individually or collectively, threaten the fundamental right to vote of all Georgians, but their impact will be felt most intensely by persons of color, which is precisely what the legislature intended,” the lawsuit states.

One of the provisions of the law limits drop boxes to early voting locations, making them “essentially useless to voters who can vote early in-person or who cannot access early voting hours at all due to work or other commitments during early voting hours,” the complaint states.

The law also enacts “new and complicated absentee ballot application and return process” with a new identification requirement and gives the county boards of election the authority to eliminate Sunday voting, when Black churches have been known to transport members to the polling places in an effort called “Souls to the Polls.” It also bans people from passing out water bottles and snacks to voters waiting in line at the polls.

After SB 202 passed by a 34-20 vote in the state Senate, Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed it into law last week. While Kemp was signing the bill, Democratic state Representative Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested for standing outside the governor’s office and knocking on the door.

Georgia has come into play on the national political scene since 2018, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams came close to defeating Kemp, who was serving as secretary of state during the campaign and election. Abrams took the loss as an opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of minority voters register to vote.

The Peach State narrowly voted for Democratic President Joe Biden over incumbent Republican President Donald Trump, who claimed there was voting fraud but was unsuccessful in his attempts to change the outcome that was confirmed by a statewide recount.

Six weeks later, Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock unseated incumbent Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in historic runoff elections to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

The plaintiffs allege it was those two election losses that are the reasons why Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly introduced the voting bill in this year’s legislative session.

“Unable to stem the tide of these demographic changes or change the voting patterns of voters of color, these officials have resorted to attempting to suppress the vote of Black voters and other voters of color in order to maintain the tenuous hold that the Republican Party has in Georgia,” the complaint states. “In other words, these officials are using racial discrimination as a means of achieving a partisan end.”

The plaintiffs are asking the court to declare SB 202 as a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. They are also seeking injunctive relief to stop the state from enacting the law. They are represented by Atlanta-based attorney Bryan Sells.

“We promised to use every legal option available to us to fight back against SB 202 and our lawsuit does just that,” Georgia NAACP President Rev. James Woodall said in a statement. “The thinly-veiled attempt to roll back the progress we have made to empower Georgians — to use their voices in the democratic process — creates an arbitrary law that does not improve voter confidence, secure election integrity nor increase access to the ballot box.

Raffensberger was not available for comment Monday night.

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