Georgia election officials are sued over new voting rules

Erik Larson

Georgia’s elections chief was sued by a group of nonprofit civic organizations that claim a new voting law signed Thursday by the state’s Republican governor will make it harder for minorities to cast ballots.

The lawsuit, against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, is one of the first challenges to a wave of voting restrictions taking shape in state legislatures across the country. It was filed late Thursday, right after the law passed, by groups including the New Georgia Project and the Black Voters Matter Fund.

In this Dec. 14, 2020 file photo, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger speaks during a news conference in Atlanta.

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“Georgia has a long and egregious history of implementing election laws that hinder Black and minority citizens’ ability to participate equally in the political process,” the groups said in the complaint, which names other officials as well.

Republican lawmakers say Georgia’s new restrictions are necessary because of voter fraud during the 2020 election, an argument the GOP is making in a number of states to push for tighter rules on voting. Critics of that argument point out that dozens of federal judges and William Barr, then the U.S. attorney general, found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, and contend that the rules are meant to suppress the minority vote. It was a pair of runoff elections in Georgia that gave the Democrats control of the Senate.

Raffensperger’s press office didn’t immediately return a call for comment on the suit.

Biden Weighs In

President Joe Biden, whose election victory was the target of conspiracy theories led by former president Donald Trump, denounced efforts at voter suppression on Thursday in the first news conference of his presidency, and again on Friday in a statement.

In the statement, Biden called Georgia’s new law a “blatant attack” on the Constitution that “will effectively deny the right to vote to countless voters.” He said efforts to restrict voting in several states must end and vowed to take his case to the American people.

The groups suing Raffensperger are represented by leading Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, who successfully filed dozens of suits last year to expand access to voting in swing states during the pandemic and, after the election, helped defend the result from Republican challenges.

The disputed provisions of the Georgia law – including new ID requirements, restrictions on ballot drop boxes and time limits on out-of-precinct voting – are overly burdensome and will have discriminatory effects, the groups said in the suit, filed in federal court in Atlanta.

The law is “a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult – especially for minority voters,” according to the complaint.

As for Governor Brian Kemp’s assertion that the law is needed to restore confidence in the election system, the groups say it was the false claims of fraud spread by Trump and his supporters that gave rise to such doubts in the first place.

“To the extent there are concerns about voters’ confidence’ in Georgia’s elections, they are the result of a cynical and thoroughly rebuked misinformation campaign – not based in reality,” according to the lawsuit.

Read More: Georgia Governor Signs Bill to Overhaul State’s Elections System

The suit rejects the governor’s claim that the law will improve election integrity. Secretary of State Raffensperger himself previously “admitted that Georgia’s elections are already safe and secure,” adding at one point that the state’s system was a “gold standard” for the U.S., the groups say.

They seek a court order finding that the challenged provisions of the law are undue burdens on the right to vote and therefore violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Read More: What’s Behind New U.S. Fights Over the Right to Vote: QuickTake

The case is 21-mi-99999, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia (Atlanta).