Voting Rights

Demonstrators at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on March 3, 2021 protest a voter suppression bill, which was later passed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp. (Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Faith Leaders Call for Federal Election Monitors in Georgia to Protect Black Voters

"It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

A group of faith leaders in Georgia on Wednesday asked the U.S. Justice Department to send federal election monitors to the state to help ensure that Black voters are able to cast their ballots in November's midterm elections.

"Extremists in Georgia have constructed a completely false narrative designed to minimize and invalidate African-American voters."

In a letter to DOJ officials released in the wake of the state's primary elections Tuesday, the faith leaders--who say they represent "hundreds of congregations and hundreds of thousands of parishioners throughout Georgia"--said they are "highly concerned that there are active efforts to minimize and discredit African-American votes in the November general election."

"After a record turnout by African-American voters in the 2020 election, extremists in Georgia have constructed a completely false narrative designed to minimize and invalidate African-American voters," the signers stated.

"Led by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and extremists within the Republican Party, African-American communities throughout the state have been witnessed to lies, multimillion-dollar spending, and passage of S.B. 202, without debate or discourse... to invalidate the African-American vote while falsely alleging voter fraud in Georgia's Black communities," the faith leaders continued. "It is clear that these efforts have been made to specifically discredit the vote of Georgia's African-American community."

Signed into law by Kemp in March 2021, S.B. 202 imposed new voter identification requirements for mail-in ballots, limited the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, criminalized the provision of food and water to voters standing in line, banned mobile voting vans, and imposed other restrictions that the advocacy group Public Citizen condemned as "a vicious attack on voting rights."

The U.S. Justice Department subsequently sued Georgia over the law, with Attorney General Merrick Garland alleging that the legislation was "enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."

While Kemp said the law was meant to ensure that the state's elections are "secure, accessible, and fair" and guard against fraud, the faith leaders noted that "formal investigations conducted by Georgia officials and the Georgia courts have found no evidence to support such claims of voter fraud."

The leaders said it was also apparent that Kemp's intent in signing S.B. 202 "was to create a rigged system explicitly established to benefit his own effort to win reelection."

They noted that Kemp--formerly Georgia's secretary of state--admitted to being "as frustrated as anyone else with the results, especially the federal level," of the 2020 elections, and that he "once removed over 560,000 voters from the state's voter rolls in a single day, many of those comprising voters of color.

"We find it no coincidence that the vast majority of these inaccurate calls of voter fraud were targeted specifically within African-American communities," the letter stated. "While baseless, flawed, and ultimately incorrect, it is fair to believe that this fall, these efforts will continue."

"Having federal election monitors on-site will allow consistent tracking of the facts and ensure that the truth can quickly counter any false narrative," the request concluded. "It is imperative that our election this November is monitored to preserve ballot integrity and ensure ballot security."

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Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant law professor at Georgia State University, toldThe New York Times that "under the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice has an extraordinary amount of latitude to send these monitors to jurisdictions that they feel require some kind of oversight."

"Then," he added, "you actually have some kind of federal authority there who can much more quickly and in an authoritative way dispute the allegations that are falsely made."

The faith leaders' request comes as Black clergy in Georgia are fighting back after the election board in Spalding County, between Macon and Atlanta, purged its Democratic members and then eliminated Sunday voting.

"No matter what party affiliation you have, we should want to increase participation in the voting process. And that was something that Sunday voting had done," Rev. Zachary Holmes, who held a "Souls to the Polls" voter mobilization on Saturday, told CNN.

Michael Lawrence, pastor at Breakthrough Deliverance Church in Griffin, added that Sunday is "the strongest day for Black people. And I think this is something that is racial, and this is a way to control our numbers at the poll."

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