Civil Rights Groups Sue Georgia Over New Sweeping Voter Suppression Law
SPLC, ACLU, LDF File Lawsuit on Behalf of Groups Representing Voters of Color and Other Historically Disenfranchised Communities
ATLANTA — Civil rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia’s sweeping new law that makes it much harder for all Georgians to vote, particularly voters of color, new citizens, and religious communities.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and law firms WilmerHale and Davis Wright Tremaine brought the case on behalf of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and SPLC clients Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, and Latino Community Fund of Georgia.
The law being challenged is S.B. 202, which was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in under seven hours last Thursday. These elected officials’ actions follow the 2020 presidential election and the 2021 runoff elections for two seats to the U.S. Senate that saw record turnout of voters, particularly Black voters, in Georgia.
The elections were celebrated not just for their turnout, but also for their integrity, with Georgia officials praising them as safe and secure. But rather than act to expand participation in the political process, Georgia leaders responded by doing what they have done many times in the state’s history: they placed burdensome, unjustified, and unnecessary restrictions on voters, particularly voters of color and other historically disenfranchised communities.
The lawsuit, Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Kemp, challenges multiple provisions in S.B. 202, including the:
1. ban on mobile voting;
2. new narrow identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot;
3. delayed and compressed time period for requesting absentee ballots;
4. restrictions on secure drop boxes;
5. out-of-precinct provisional ballot disqualification;
6. drastic reduction in early voting in runoff elections; and
7. perhaps most cruelly, ban on “line warming,” where volunteers provide water and snacks to Georgians, disproportionately those of color, who wait in needlessly long lines to cast their vote.
These provisions, the lawsuit charges, violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and infringe on Georgians’ rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as the First Amendment in terms of the ban on the free distribution of food and water.
“Legislators and Governor Kemp ignored the very obvious lessons from the election in 2020 and runoffs in 2021: expand safe and secure access to the ballot, codify innovations to voting, and provide additional resources to cash-strapped counties,” said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the SPLC. “Instead, to appease conspiracy theorists and amplify deadly lies about past elections, Georgia’s leaders have chosen to pass into law S.B. 202, which makes it more difficult for every Georgian — but particularly Georgians who are members of historically disenfranchised communities — to vote in a safe, secure, and convenient manner and have that vote counted. In so doing, the defendants have violated federal law and the U.S. Constitution, and we turn to the federal courts and U.S. Congress to address the incredible harm S.B. 202 will have on our clients.”
“This law is driven by blatant racism, represents politics at its very worst, and is clearly illegal,” said Sophia Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “We urge the court to act swiftly to strike it down.”
“S.B. 202 is perhaps the most bold and shameful voter suppression legislation enacted in the modern era. Its purpose and target are clear: to create barriers to voting for Black voters who turned out in record numbers for the November 2020 presidential election and the January 2021 special election. The provisions of the new law and the manner in which it was enacted reflect a thorough disregard for the sanctity of protecting the right to vote and a headlong and determined zeal to diminish Black political power in Georgia,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF’s president and director-counsel. “This is a powerful moment for democracy in this country. S.B. 202’s attempt to disenfranchise Black voters in Georgia harkens back to the most shameful days of voter suppression in the decades before the civil rights movement. That this law was passed in Georgia, less than a year after the death of one of the state’s greatest heroes, Representative John Lewis, is shameful. In his name, we will fight to strike down this illegal attempt to undo his legacy. Anything less represents a grave threat to the future of our democracy and inherently undermines the notion of equality for all.”
“Democracy depends upon people expressing their voices freely through their votes,” said WilmerHale partner Debo P. Adegbile. “The Georgia omnibus voting obstruction law is a prime example of modern voter suppression and erodes democracy. A great deal has changed in Georgia but the commitment to brazenly disenfranchise voters clearly has not.”
“S.B. 202 attacks the most sacred foundations of our democracy. But in this country, the law secures every American citizen the equal right to make their voice heard at the ballot box, no matter who they are. And we intend to vindicate that right in court,” said Adam Sieff, attorney at Davis Wright Tremaine.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Atlanta.
SPLC CLIENTS & REPRESENTATIVE QUOTES
Preye Cobham, Esq., Legal Director for Women Watch Afrika: “The communities of new citizens and young, new voters that we support will be intimidated and scared off from the ballot box because of the provisions within S.B. 202. They already face challenges of language barriers, accent profiling, problems with the Postal Service, and errors in databases that still classify them as non-citizens, and they often do not have a U.S. passport, state-issued ID, or driver's license. With the federal government telling them they shouldn’t make copies of their Naturalization Certificate, S.B. 202 effectively closes off any ability for many to vote absentee.”
- Women Watch Afrika is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that seeks to promote the social and economic development and health equity of women and girls, and the acculturation of immigrants and refugees arriving to the United States from 23 African nations. In furtherance of its mission, Women Watch Afrika provides Social Services, Advocacy, Health and Legal Education, Know Your Rights workshops, Citizenship Preparation, Legal Services, Domestic Violence/FGM Prevention and Civic Engagement. WWA’s Civic Engagement program includes Voting and Civil Rights Awareness Trainings to engage refugee and immigrant communities in the metro-Atlanta area. WWA also participates in GOTV and election protection activities, which includes providing food and water to voters waiting in long lines, organizing transportation for voters to vote in person or by drop box, and providing assistance to voter casting a ballot in-person or by absentee who speak French, Swahili, Arabic, and Amharic, and to voters without the ability to read.
Shafina Khabani, Executive Director of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project: “S.B. 202 is an attack on Muslim, Black, and brown Georgians, who showed up to vote in historic numbers in 2020 and are now being punished for it. Georgians were able to vote in record-breaking numbers in 2020 due to safe and secure options to cast their ballots in a global pandemic. Rather than further expand this access, our lawmakers have instead chosen to perpetuate lies of voter fraud to make it harder for people to have their voices heard. This is a willful attempt to leave people of color and immigrant voters in particular out of our democracy.”
- The Georgia Muslim Voter Project (GAMVP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to activate and elevate the voices of Muslim voters in Georgia regardless of whom they support. In furtherance of this mission, GAMVP holds voter registration drives, civic engagement workshops, voter education forums, and participates in GOTV efforts, including the provision of food and drink to voters waiting in line to cast a ballot, in Bibb, Chatham, Clarke, Cobb, Columbia, DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett, and Richmond Counties and is actively seeking to expand its efforts statewide. GAMVP also provides resources to Muslim voters on advance in-person voting, drop box voting, and voting by mail through their phone-banking and text-banking programs and through use of other multimedia. GAMVP has and continues to serve Muslims of all race and ethnic backgrounds, including the growing Black Muslim community in Georgia, and a wide range of age groups from teenagers to elders. There are at least 71,000 Muslim voters in Georgia.
Gilda Pedraza, Executive Director of Latino Community Fund of Georgia: “The story of Georgia’s democracy and the story of our community in the past year is one of great participation. Unfortunately, S.B. 202 will limit democratic participation all in service of addressing non-existent problems. Provisions in S.B. 202 like limiting dropbox hours and allowing any voter the opportunity to challenge the qualifications of other voters will decrease citizens’ ability to participate in the democratic process, especially those that live in rural areas, that work in shifts, that may have limited Internet connectivity or that are learning English.”
- The Latino Community Fund (LCF) of Georgia organization comprised of thirty Latinx-led organizations serving Latinx communities across Georgia. Its mission is to be a catalyst for investment and collaborative work with and within the Latinx community. As part of this mission, LCF Georgia provides critical resources to Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking voters across the state, including the translation of materials, civic engagement training, voter education materials regarding absentee voting, early voting, and voting by drop box. For instance, LCF Georgia launched and coordinated the Latinos for Democracy coalition, which reached every Latinx voter in Georgia at least twice in the 2020 primaries provided support to voters on Election Day as part of its election protection program. LCF Georgia also operates and coordinates an active text-to-vote and phone-banking operation, sends bilingual mailers with voting information, and runs a canvass program, which provides information to voters in English and Spanish.