Civil rights groups quickly challenged a new law placing restrictions on voting, while President Biden denounced it as “Jim Crow.” Republicans in other states are determined to follow suit with their own measures.
By Nick Corasaniti and Reid J. Epstein
The fight over voting rights is emerging as one of the defining conflicts of the Biden era, and Georgia fired the opening shot with a set of new restrictions underscoring the political, legal and financial clashes that will influence whether Republicans retake Congress and the White House.
President Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new law an “attack on the Constitution” and said the Justice Department was “taking a look” at Republican voting efforts in the state, without offering any specifics.
“This is Jim Crow in the 21st century, it must end,” Mr. Biden said, a day after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law. “I will take my case to the American people — including Republicans who joined the broadest coalition of voters ever in this past election to put country before party.
“If you have the best ideas, you have nothing to hide. Let the people vote.”
Civil rights groups immediately challenged the Georgia law in federal court, backed by prominent Democratic voting rights lawyers. Several Black leaders described the legal skirmishes to come as an existential fight for representation, saying the law clearly puts a target on Black and brown voters. Protests against voting restrictions unfolded this week in state capitols like Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, and more lawsuits are expected.
In more than 24 states, Republican-led legislatures are advancing bills in a broad political effort that is the most aggressive attack on the right to vote since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It follows months of Republican efforts to tarnish Mr. Biden’s presidential victory, which scores of high-level G.O.P. officials still refuse to acknowledge as legitimate.
Democrats, who have limited power in many state capitols, are looking to Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats for a new federal law to protect voting. Many in the party see the fight over voting as not just a moral cause but also a political one, given their narrow margins of victory in presidential and Senate elections in Georgia, Arizona and other battlegrounds.
Georgia’s sweeping new provisions, passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature, represent the most substantive overhaul of a battleground state’s voting system since last November’s election. It would impose stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limit drop boxes and forbid giving water and snacks to voters waiting in line.
But in a state where former President Donald J. Trump tried to persuade Republican election officials to reverse his loss, the measure went even further: It shifts the power and oversight of elections to the Legislature by stripping the secretary of state from chairing the state Board of Elections and authorizing the Legislature to name members to the board. It further empowers the state Board of Elections to have sweeping jurisdiction over county elections boards, including the authority to suspend officials.
Mr. Biden on Friday called Georgia’s new voting restrictions “un-American,” and sought to tie them to the Democrats’ push in Washington to enact the federal voting rights bill, which the House passed this month. The measure would put in place a raft of requirements intended to protect voting rights, including weakening restrictive state identification requirements, expanding early and mail-in voting and restoring voting rights to former felons.
The president said the new Georgia law was expressly what the House bill was designed to prevent. While Democrats in Congress debate abolishing the filibuster in order to pass the voting rights bill through the Senate, Republican legislators in more than 40 states have introduced hundreds of bills targeting voting access and seizing authority over administering elections.
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