Georgia's New Voting Rules Guarantee Legal Challenges




Last week, Georgia passed SB202, a bill that would dramatically limit and curtail the ability of Georgia residents to vote. Georgia Republicans - who control the legislative and executive branches of the state - argue that the changes are necessary in order to prevent fraud, while Democrats and civil rights activists say that the law clearly targeted African American voters who helped deliver the state to the Democratic Party in the 2020 elections. Indeed, one of the only things that both sides agree on is that the law is guaranteed to face legal challenges - challenges that could set a major legal precedent for how far a state can go to limit voting rights.


What's In the Bill


The bill impacts virtually all aspects of Georgia's elections. Georgia elections are largely run at the county level. The new law enables the Georgia General Assembly to replace county election boards with their own picks, essentially enabling the process to become significantly more political and controlled by whoever runs the Georgia legislature - in this case, Republicans. This could make the process more harmful to Democrats, as these election boards can make changes that disadvantage the way Democrats vote and their efforts to register voters. It also makes changes that allow the Georgia legislature to control the state-wide election board, thus giving the Republican-controlled body more power. 


The bill allows for any resident to challenge the eligibility of a newly registered Georgia voter, thus giving Republicans more chances to disqualify Democratic voters. It limits the use of drop boxes for mail-in voting, a popular form of voting that was used extensively by Democrats in the 2020 elections. It also enhances voter ID laws by also applying them to mail-in ballots, creating extra steps that may make it harder for voters to vote by mail. Again, more Democrats than Republicans used mail-in ballots in 2020. 


It also makes it illegal to give voters food or water, a practice that became more common as lines got longer - and lines have often become longer in majority-black neighborhoods. Indeed, studies show that African-American voters are more likely to wait in line longer than white voters.


What Caused The Rollback?


There is no question that the legislation is a response to Joe Biden's 2020 win, as well as the win of Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. At the time, Donald Trump and his allies alleged - falsely - that fraud had delivered the state to Biden, with the former President going as far as to call the Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, to ask him to "find" the missing votes that would deliver the state to Trump. Both Raffensperger and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp refused to play along with Trump's lies and performed their legal duty of certifying the vote for Joe Biden. Both have now supported Senate Bill 202.


What Comes Next


A series of legal challenges to the legislation are virtually guaranteed, with many groups pledging to file suit against the law, arguing that it goes too far in suppressing the right of voters - particularly black and other minority voters - to cast their ballots. It is highly likely that lawsuits will be filed by multiple activist groups and draw in numerous national activists. Furthermore, it seems likely that challenges to these laws will follow two tracks: One at the state level, and one at the federal level. Money will almost certainly not be an issue here, as activist groups have a long record of raising the funds necessary to support any legal challenge. Given its national implications, it also seems distinctly possible that the case will wind up in the hands of the United States Supreme Court, where a ruling could have implications across the rest of the country.


This case should not be viewed in isolation. According to groups who track similar legislation, more than 250 bills have been filed that would potentially curtail voting rights. The Georgia bill, however, is the most prominent example of these, as it targets a state that Democrats one and is the most comprehensive roll-back of all the legislation passed. Time will ultimately tell about the national and legal implications of this bill.





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