March 27, 2021 9:26:47 am
Written by Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein
The fight over voting rights is emerging as one of the defining conflicts of the Biden era, and Georgia fired the opening shot with a set of new restrictions underscoring the political, legal and financial clashes that will influence whether Republicans retake Congress and the White House.
President Joe Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new law an “attack on the Constitution” and said the Justice Department was “taking a look” at Republican voting efforts in the state, without offering any specifics.
“This is Jim Crow in the 21st century, it must end,” Biden said, a day after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law. “I will take my case to the American people — including Republicans who joined the broadest coalition of voters ever in this past election to put country before party.
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“If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.”
Civil rights groups immediately challenged the Georgia law in federal court, backed by prominent Democratic voting rights lawyers. Several Black leaders described the legal skirmishes to come as an existential fight for representation, saying the law clearly puts a target on Black and brown voters. Protests against voting restrictions unfolded this week in state capitols like Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, and more lawsuits are expected.
In more than 24 states, Republican-led legislatures are advancing bills in a broad political effort that is the most aggressive attack on the right to vote since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It follows months of Republican efforts to tarnish Biden’s presidential victory, which scores of high-level GOP officials still refuse to acknowledge as legitimate.
Democrats, who have limited power in many state capitols, are looking to Biden and congressional Democrats for a new federal law to protect voting. Many in the party see the fight over voting as not just a moral cause but also a political one, given their narrow margins of victory in presidential and Senate elections in Georgia, Arizona and other battlegrounds.
Georgia’s sweeping new provisions, passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature, represent the most substantive overhaul of a battleground state’s voting system since last November’s election. It would impose stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limit drop boxes, and forbid giving water and snacks to voters waiting in line.
But in a state where former President Donald Trump tried to persuade Republican election officials to reverse his loss, the measure went even further: It shifts the power and oversight of elections to the Legislature by stripping the secretary of state from chairing the state Board of Elections and authorizing the Legislature to name members to the board. It further empowers the state Board of Elections to have sweeping jurisdiction over county elections boards, including the authority to suspend officials.
Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new voting restrictions “un-American,” and sought to tie them to the Democrats’ push in Washington to enact the federal voting rights bill, which the House passed this month. The measure would put in place a raft of requirements intended to protect voting rights, including weakening restrictive state identification requirements, expanding early and mail-in voting and restoring voting rights to former felons.
The president said the new Georgia law was expressly what the House bill was designed to prevent. While Democrats in Congress debate abolishing the filibuster in order to pass the voting rights bill through the Senate, Republican legislators in more than 40 states have introduced hundreds of bills targeting voting access and seizing authority over administering elections.
Bitter struggles over voting rights loom even in states with Democratic governors who can veto the legislation. In Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Republican-controlled legislatures are planning to advance restrictive bills, and new Republican governors would most likely sign them into law if they are elected next year.
“The 2020 election is behind us, but the war over the future of our democracy is escalating,” said Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who is the secretary of state in Michigan, where Republicans this week introduced numerous proposed restrictions on voting. “For anyone to believe that they can sit down and rest because the 2020 election is behind need look no further than what happened in Georgia as an indication that our work is far from over.”
Republicans, borrowing language from their previous efforts at curtailing voting access, have described the new bills as a way to make voting easier while limiting fraud. Kemp, upon signing the bill into law, said it would “make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” even though the state’s own Republican election officials found no substantive evidence of fraud.
Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Georgia would serve as a model for other Republican-run states.
“The country was watching closely what Georgia would do,” Anderson said in an interview. “The fact that they were able to get these reforms through sets the tone and puts Georgia in a leadership role for other states.”
The early battle lines are increasingly centering on two key states that flipped from Republican to Democratic in 2020, Arizona and Georgia. Those states are also home to large populations of voters of color, who have historically faced discriminatory laws at the polls.
Two battleground states that remained in Republican control in 2020 — Texas and Florida — are also moving forward with new laws restricting voting.
In Florida, lawmakers are looking to ban drop boxes and limit who can collect ballots for other voters, among other provisions, even after an election that the Republican chair of the state party touted as the “gold standard” and that Republicans won handily.
Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican state representative who has sponsored some of the legislation, said that while the election was successful, it was “not without challenges and problems that we think we needed to fix.” He cited the use of ballot drop boxes, which he helped write into law but he said were not adequately being administered.
“They said the same thing with the last election bill, that we wrote it and they said it was voter suppression, and the exact opposite happened: We had more people vote in the state of Florida than ever before,” he said. “We have 40 days of election with three different ways to vote. How can anyone say voter suppression?”
The torrent of Republican voting legislation, Democrats say, undermines faith in elections.
“Even in states where they won’t be passed and have been introduced, like in Colorado, they’re dangerous,” said Jena Griswold, the secretary of state in Colorado. “The rhetoric of lying and trying to manipulate Americans to keep political power is dangerous. It led to all the death threats that secretaries of state and election officials received in 2020. It led to the insurrection.”
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