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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, speaks during a runoff election night party at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead on January 5, 2021. (Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, speaks during a runoff election night party at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead on January 5, 2021. (Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

'Vicious Attack on Voting Rights': Georgia Governor Signs GOP Suppression Bill

"This is why federal voting rights legislation is necessary."

Jessica Corbett

Bolstering the case for federal legislation to safeguard the franchise from Republicans' ongoing voter suppression efforts across the country, GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed into law a sweeping, unpopular bill overhauling the state's elections that critics have called "a vicious attack on voting rights."

Kemp's move came after less than two hours after Georgia's Republican lawmakers gave final approval to Senate Bill 202, which has been criticized by voting rights advocates within and beyond the Peach State. President Joe Biden said Thursday that GOP attempts to restrict voting are "sick" and "un-American."

After Kemp signed the bill, he claimed at a news conference that the measure was "another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible, and fair." By contrast, rights advocates lambasted the governor and state lawmakers for rapidly enacting the "extraordinarily dangerous" legislation.

"If Republicans thought this was 'the right thing to do'—they wouldn't have done it this way," said Aunna Dennis, executive director of Common Cause Georgia. "If they thought S.B. 202 was 'good public policy'—they wouldn't have rammed it through the General Assembly in only six hours. If they thought S.B. 202 was 'in the public interest'—they would have made sure the public had a chance to learn about it."

"Instead, both House and Senate leadership forced the 'omnibus' anti-voter bill through to the governor's desk in just hours, on completely party-line votes," she continued, warning that the legislation "will amplify partisan interests and cement partisan control over our elections infrastructure."

Kemp, who is up for reelection next year, "will be an obvious beneficiary" of the new changes to Georgia's election laws, Dennis added. Describing the measure as "an insult" to state voters, she said that by pushing it through so quickly, "Republicans in Georgia's House and Senate showed us exactly how little they value our votes."

Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the SPLC Action Fund, described the legislation as "a codification of the dangerous and deadly Big Lie of 2020," referencing the myths about voter fraud that former President Donald Trump and other Republican politicians and commentators circulated before and after last year's general election.

"Cowering to extremists and disseminators of disinformation about our elections has been the overall policy agenda of Georgia's leaders this legislative session. Dozens of frivolous court cases in Georgia failed last year that this legislation is based on," Abudu added. "Thousands of voters have made it clear that the types of provisions in S.B. 202 are unacceptable and will disproportionately harm historically disenfranchised communities, young voters, and voters with disabilities."

The Washington Post reports the bill will "impose new identification requirements for those casting ballots by mail; curtail the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots; allow challenges to voting eligibility; make it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line; block the use of mobile voting vans, as Fulton County did last year after purchasing two vehicles at a cost of more than $700,000; and prevent local governments from directly accepting grants from the private sector."

As the newspaper notes:

The 95-page bill also strips authority from the secretary of state, making him a nonvoting member of the State Elections Board, and allows lawmakers to initiate takeovers of local election boards—measures that critics said could allow partisan appointees to slow down or block election certification or target heavily Democratic jurisdictions, many of which are in the Atlanta area and are home to the state's highest concentrations of Black and Brown voters.

"It can't be a coincidence that the counties mentioned as candidates for state takeover have significant populations of Black and Brown voters," said Dennis.

Nsé Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, which works to increase civic participation of underrepresented and underserved communities of color, called the law "egregious."

"Let's call S.B. 202 for what it is: a blatant and intentional strike on Black, Brown, and new voters," Ufot said. "S.B. 202 means that we can no longer host 'Souls To The Polls' events during runoffs, or so much as give our fellow community members water as they wait for hours to cast their ballot."

Slamming Georgia Republicans for advancing the bill "behind closed doors and amidst a cloud of secrecy," Ufot declared that "this is not how democracy works. Lawmakers are elected to represent us, yet they are doing everything they can to take away our votes without our consent."

"Make no mistake: Republicans are using Georgia as a testing ground for their latest voter suppression experiments," she added. "To Gov. Kemp, to all Republican lawmakers who have pushed through these bills, and to all companies who have bankrolled them with financial support while profiting from our dollars: shame on you."

"It's time you do your jobs and represent the voters you were elected to represent. It's time you make your priorities our priorities: healthcare, justice, and progress for all people living in Georgia," she said. "And to members of Congress, may this be your cue to immediately restore the Voting Rights Advancement Act and pass the For The People Act. You have a duty to the American people to uphold the cornerstone of our democracy. Anything less just won't do."

Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, also responded to Kemp's move with a call for federal action.

"Instead of celebrating the record voter turnout during the 2020 election amid a pandemic, Georgia lawmakers have gone to extreme efforts to deny access to the ballot," said Henderson. "Unfortunately, this bill is not an anomaly—across the country, over 250 state bills have been introduced to disenfranchise voters, many measures aimed squarely at communities of color."

"For the sake of our democracy, this has to stop," he said. "Voters, and not officials, must decide our elections. Congress must pass H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and put an end to these brazen attempts to silence our voices. Congress must ensure the freedom to vote for all Americans, regardless of who we are, where we live, or how we vote."

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