Updated: June 30, 2021 7:30:22 am
Last week, US president Joe Biden’s Justice Department announced it had filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia, the Georgia Secretary of State, and the Georgia State Election Board because of recent voting procedures adopted by the Georgia Senate Bill 202.
Georgia’s state legislature is controlled by Republicans, who have been trying in several states to change elections laws in way that will make it harder for Americans to vote. These changes come after Covid-19 caused many states to switch to mail-in voting during the presidential elections last year, something that former US President Donald Trump repeatedly alleged would lead to fraud (none of his allegations were proven right).
This is significant because of the idea that Democrats are more likely to benefit from measures such as mail-in voting.
However, a report in The New York Times says that while the pushback by Republicans over the issue of mail-in voting was driven by the conviction that Democrat voters tend to use it more, the reality is “far less clear”. Referring to a working paper published by the Institute for Economic Policy Research, the report said “that mail balloting modestly increased voter turnout but that both parties benefited more or less equally from the surge. Other academic studies have reached largely similar conclusions.”
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Why did Georgia change its election laws?
The change in the state’s election laws was one of the first after Trump’s remarks about election fraud in the run up to the 2020 presidential elections.
Even before the general elections in November 2020, the US Postal Service (USPS), which is one of the most important and trusted public institutions in the country, was at the centre of a political row, with Democrats insisting that more Americans be given access to mail-in voting, and Republicans opposing this demand over fears of fraud.
Amid the pandemic, various Democrat-controlled states, including Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, allowed absentee voting for all. On the other hand, there was resistance from some Republican-controlled states, including Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, about allowing mail-in ballots.
Apart from Georgia, the legislation called SB 7 was passed in the House along party lines in the state of Texas in May.
Some of the most significant changes that the bill proposes include limiting how local officials can expand voting options, regulating the distribution of polling places in urban areas, requiring paper trails for voting, setting new rules for voting by mail, regulating donations to counties, setting new rules for removing people from the voter rolls, enhancing poll watcher freedom and requiring the recording of vote counting, the Texas Tribune reported.
What does the Georgia bill say?
The Election Integrity Act of 2021, signed into law in March by Republican governor Brian Kemp, says that changes have been made to “address the lack of elector confidence in the election system on all sides of the political spectrum”.
“Following the 2018 and 2020 elections, there 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 98-page legislation notes.
Apart from the Justice Department, three other lawsuits have been filed against this law — one each by The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter and Rise Inc., groups that contend that the law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.
Section 1 of the 14th Amendment says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
What has the Justice Department said in its complaint?
In its lawsuit, the complaint contends that certain provisions of the bill were “adopted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race. The Justice Department’s lawsuit alleges that the cumulative and discriminatory effect of these laws—particularly on Black voters—was known to lawmakers and that lawmakers adopted the law despite this.”
The complaint challenges other provisions of the bill, including one that bans government entities from distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications, imposing of costly and onerous fines on civic organisations, churches and advocacy groups and shortening of deadlines to request absentee ballots to 11 days before Election Day. Essentially, the Justice Department has asked that the court prohibit the state of Georgia from imposing these requirements.
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