What’s the next step for voting rights in Georgia?

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From lawsuits and legislation to persistent false allegations of fraud in 2020, Georgia holds a central role in the national conversation about voting rights and elections.

This week, Democrats on the U.S. Senate Rules Committee held the first field hearing in two decades at the Center for Civil and Human Rights to hear restrictive voting changes across the country and push for legislation federal voting rights – something that seems unlikely. in its current form.

Georgia’s 98-page SB 202 is the centerpiece of discussions on voting rights and access to the ballot, after the bill was introduced in part due to record absenteeism by correspondence and after that Democrats narrowly reversed state electoral votes and U.S. Senate seats – an outcome some GOP leaders and voters refuse to acknowledge could have happened without fraud.

“It is no coincidence that this attack on the freedom to vote comes just after the 2020 election, when nearly 160 million Americans voted – more than ever before – in the midst of a pandemic, during “An election for the Trump Department of Homeland Security has been declared the safest in history,” committee chair Senator Amy Klobuchar said at the hearing.

Georgian senator Jon Ossoff, a committee member, said changes to Georgia’s election administration that include new identification requirements for voting by mail, expanded access to early voting in small counties and tighter deadlines for many parts of the voting process “are not intended to solve any real problem.

“The only real problem for the Georgia GOP is that they lost,” Ossoff said. “But don’t take it from the Democrats, don’t take it from me – take it from them. Take it from our Republican Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, take it from our Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. from the director of operations in the office of Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling, who all swore on several occasions that there was no evidence of widespread fraud, that this was a successful secure election. ”

Raffensperger and Duncan have become party outcasts for exposing allegations of mass fraud that could overturn election results, with the Secretary of State facing several main challengers and the Lieutenant Governor choosing not to run for a second term .

Spurred on by former President Trump and a friendly right-wing media ecosystem, many prominent candidates and lawmakers have spent the past eight months making baseless statements and attempting to overturn the certified election results.

What is in dispute?

Georgia is no stranger to dramatic voting changes and acts that rob black voters of their rights, from the killings of voting defenders in the days of Ku Klux Klan reconstruction to former Atlanta Newspaper Owner Hoke Smith actively winning the governor’s race in 1906 as a Democrat on a (successful) platform of Jim Crow laws that effectively ended black political participation for decades.

A recent GPB News / ProPublica analysis of polling stations in the Atlanta metro area showed overcrowded voting sites in non-white areas, with longer queues in predominantly black neighborhoods that saw a higher proportion higher in-person votes as well as an increase in voter registration. Decisions about polling stations are made at the county level, and these predominantly Democratic counties contain almost half of the state’s active voters, but only 38% of the polling stations.

Now, the sweeping voting law enacted by the Republican-controlled General Assembly has sparked a new storm of criticism over access to the ballot, coupled with the baseless allegations by many prominent Republicans about fraud and misconduct during the election. elections and the false claims that former President Trump won the state.

While some provisions of the law are welcomed by local election officials or make seemingly neutral changes to Georgia’s electoral process, at least eight federal lawsuits challenging parts of SB 202 have been filed, alleging intentional racial discrimination.

In AME Church c. Kemp, a coalition of groups cites the state’s history of racist election laws – including white-only primaries, election taxes and literacy tests – coupled with statements from leading Republicans who refute allegations of fraud electoral.

“In short, in safe and secure elections, record numbers of Georgians have performed the most vital act of democracy: they have voted,” the file read. “Then, on March 25, 2021, the Georgia General Assembly and Governor Brian Kemp made this most vital act more difficult.”

An analysis of some of the early proposals to change the electoral law made by GPB News and the Center For Public Integrity revealed a number of changes that would have eliminated options for expanded access to early voting, particularly harming non-voters. white.

More recently, the federal government filed a lawsuit against Georgia, alleging that the changes passed earlier this year would have a cascading effect on Georgia’s large black population and that it was being targeted after the record turnout of the ‘election.

“The provisions we are challenging reduce access to postal voting at every stage of the process, pushing more black voters to vote in person, where they will be more likely than white voters to face long lines. “, Kristen Clarke, assistant attorney general for Civil Rights, said. “SB 202 then imposes additional barriers to in-person voting. “

In the case, the government wants a judge to prevent the impugned articles from being enforced and allow federal observers and preclearance of certain voting changes under a little-used section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The federal lawsuit was filed on the eighth anniversary of the Shelby v. Holder decision that effectively ended preclearance of voting changes made by Georgia and other jurisdictions with a history of racist laws.

A more recent Supreme Court decision, Brnovich v. DNC, upheld two Arizona laws in July that restricted the “ballot harvest” of mail-in ballots and prohibited votes cast in the wrong constituency. Voting rights groups say the move further devastated the Voting Rights Act after the Shelby decision in 2013.

And the Congress?

Congress is unlikely to act on voting rights and large-scale elections unless Democrats end the filibuster process that requires 60 votes to move forward.

As Georgia’s two Democratic Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock lobbied for the right to vote (currently proposed in a huge For the People Act and a narrower John Lewis Voting Rights Act), Senate colleagues Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona donation can’t stand an end to filibuster.

Additionally, local election officials fear that the For The People Act contains too many changes and not enough time for them to be implemented in a timely manner.

Republicans opposed the proposal as a “federal takeover” of elections that are administered at the state and local levels and accused Democrats of going too far – though many legislatures have failed. State GOPs have also passed local voting changes in recent months.

What happens next?

For a newly energized Republican Party base, “electoral integrity” may be the No. 1 issue as the 2022 election cycle approaches. Gov. Brian Kemp faces at least two main challengers attacking him for not overturning the election for Trump

Some pro-Trump lawmakers, campaigns and media are calling for a so-called forensic audit of election results in Georgia – something that logistically and legally cannot happen. Expect the 2022 legislative session to be full of bills to further refine Georgia’s electoral code and the powers of the Secretary of State’s office, including proposals to add “fraud investigators”. election ”at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

At the federal level, the White House and Democratic lawmakers have signaled a desire to act on voting rights but haven’t really taken much action on it, and President Joe Biden has not indicated his willingness to act. neutralize the obstruction to pass legislation through the narrow democratic chambers. .

Georgia’s eight lawsuits challenging SB 202 are all pending and attributed to Judge JP Boulee of the Northern District of Georgia, and it will likely take months to address a resolution.

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