Lawsuit, avalanche of criticism, greets Georgia’s Jim Crow voting law
With Georgia's latest restrictions, long lines won't be the only hurdle voters face when trying to cast a ballot. The measures passed Thursday evening are nothing less than a full-scale assault on democracy. | John Spink / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

ATLANTA—Cascades of criticism, including from Democratic President Joe Biden, and one big lawsuit greeted a new and sweeping Republican-crafted Georgia anti-voting law which state voting rights leader Stacey Abrams characterized as “nothing less than Jim Crow 2.0.”

Right-wing GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill, SB202, behind locked doors in the state Capitol building in Atlanta, even as white state police arrested Black Democratic State Rep. Park Cannon of Atlanta, who was knocking on the Capitol’s door to enter.

After dragging her handcuffed out of the Capitol and throwing her into jail, the cops filed two felony charges against Cannon, who was later released on her own recognizance. “I am not the first Georgian to be arrested for fighting voter suppression. I’d love to say I’m the last, but we know that isn’t true,” she tweeted afterwards.

And three civil rights groups, the New Georgia Project, Rise Inc., and the Black Voters Matter Fund, promptly sued to stop SB202, filing their 35-page complaint, and demand for an injunction to halt the law, in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

The law is a direct outcome of the ruling Republicans’ shock and alarm that their nominee, former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump, lost the 2020 election by fewer than 12,000 votes to Biden in the key swing state—and that despite Trump’s lies about rampant voter fraud in Georgia, none was found.

The shock for them worsened two months later when the people of Georgia elected two Democrats, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, to represent them in the U.S. Senate.

“Enough with this business of the people choosing their leaders,” the Republicans are saying. “It’s time for Republican legislators to choose who votes.”

Georgia’s anti-voting law is one of a raft of such shackles Republicans from coast to coast are scheming to impose on voters, with particular targets being people of color, women, and other pro-Democratic voting blocs, especially young people of all races. Their intent is to wield and keep power for themselves and their capitalist backers, at all costs.

Iowa’s GOP-run government cut early voting by nine days and restricted who can apply for absentee ballots, for example. And GOP-run Florida, which has a huge proportion of old or disabled voters, wants to ban caregivers or relatives from dropping off voters’ absentee ballots. Some five million Floridians voted absentee in 2020.

Georgia’s ruling Republicans were particularly upset with state voters when Jan. 5 runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats produced wins for Democrats Jon Ossoff, the state’s first-ever Jewish senator, and Rev. Raphael Warnock, its first-ever Black senator and pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the pulpit Dr. Martin Luther King once occupied.

Georgia state representative Park Cannon from Atlanta was arrested and jailed for trying to gain entrance to a signing session that should have been open to the public. | Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Both the general election and the runoffs set high turnout records.

The GOP struck back with a law that would close the ballot box to hundreds of thousands of Georgian voters of color.  “Today is a very sad day for the state of Georgia,” Warnock said. “What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy.”

The Republicans imposed draconian limits on who can vote and how they can vote. They put power to oversee vote counting in the hands of the partisan legislature. They even decided that if Georgia goes Democratic in 2024, the legislature can override the voters and certify Republican electors.

On the personal level, their law limits voting hours and voting on Sundays, forces voters to produce ID when they seek mail-in ballots, and limits voting drop boxes, among other restrictions. It also restricts absentee voting and shortens the time between a general election and a runoff to 28 days, as in Louisiana.

And given the long lines past voter suppression in Georgia produced, the law even makes it a felony to give food and water to voters waiting to cast their ballots. The intent: That the famished and thirsty voters, mostly Black, will leave the lines. This happened frequently during last year’s June primaries as the typical Georgia heat at that time of the year baked parched voters who had been out there on line for hours.

All this angered supporters of voting rights, including Biden and former state legislative leader Abrams, who is Black. Kemp narrowly beat Abrams for the governorship after Kemp, then secretary of state and Georgia’s top elections official, purged hundreds of thousands of voters, 70% of them Black, from the rolls.

Abrams responded with a massive voter registration and education drive which in sheer numbers overrode Kemp’s purge and led to the Democratic wins. And she succinctly named SB202 “Jim Crow 2.0,” referring to the racist system that kept Blacks from voting in Georgia, and the rest of the South, from 1877 through 1965 and beyond, despite the federal Voting Rights Act.

For his part, Biden blasted the Georgia law—singling out its ban on food and water for voters—and others like it.

“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick,” the president told his first full-scale press conference on March 24. “Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote; deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work; deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances.

“It’s all designed—and I’m going to spend my time doing three things: One, trying to figure out how to pass the legislation passed by the House, number one,” referring to the For The People Act (HR1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (HR4) designed to promote more voting.

“Number two, educating the American public. The Republican voters I know find this despicable. Republican voters, the folks outside this White House. I’m not talking about the elected officials; I’m talking about voters. Voters.

“And so I am convinced that we’ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic what they’re trying to do, and it cannot be sustained. I’m going to do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from becoming the law.”

Pressed for specifics about if and how he could block such anti-voting legislation, Biden replied: “The answer is ‘yes,’ but I’m not going to lay out a strategy in front of the whole world and you now.”  Biden previously issued an executive order to federal agencies telling them to work on ways to promote more, and inclusive, voting.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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