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Court Refuses to Lift Barriers for Black Voters in Georgia

Judge denies motion for preliminary injunction, which challenged multiple provisions of S.B. 202 for intentionally discriminating against Black voters 

ATLANTA – A Georgia district court on Wednesday refused to temporarily lift restrictions to absentee voting, drop boxes and other voting methods that will make it harder for Black voters to cast a ballot for the 2024 election. Voting rights organizations had filed five motions for preliminary injunctions to lift barriers to voting as part of Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Kemp, saying these restrictions discriminated against Black communities. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Georgia, and the law firms WilmerHale and  Davis Wright Tremaine LLP (DWT) filed the preliminary injunction motions with other legal groups and the Department of Justice. Plaintiffs are the Sixth District of the American Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Georgia ADAPT, and the Georgia Advocacy Office, represented by LDF, ACLU Ga, ACLU and Wilmer Hale, as well as the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund of Georgia and The Arc of the United States, represented by SPLC and DWT. 

“Today’s ruling forces Black Georgians to endure unnecessary restrictions to voting,” said Poy Winichakul, senior staff attorney for voting rights with the SPLC. “Time after time, Black voters in Georgia have proven that they will not let barriers deter them from exercising their right to vote – and we will continue working to lift barriers so that all voters have access to the ballot and can make their voice heard.” 

“The challenged provisions were designed to dilute Black political power, " said Alaizah Koorji, assistant counsel at the Legal Defense Fund. As a result of this ruling, Black voters will face obstacles in accessing drop boxes, voting absentee, casting provisional ballots, among other restrictions. We will remain steadfast in challenging this voter suppression to ensure Georgia’s voting laws comply with the Voting Rights Act and U.S. Constitution.  

“We are disappointed that the challenged provisions of SB 202 will remain in effect during the 2024 election cycle. But our legal challenge is far from over,” said Rahul Garabadu, senior voting rights attorney at the ACLU of Georgia. “The fight for voting rights in the South has never been easy, especially for Black voters. We will never stop advocating on behalf of our clients and voters across the state. We look forward to presenting our case at trial.”  

“While we are disappointed by today’s decision, we remain fully committed to this challenge on behalf of our clients and all Black voters in Georgia,” said George Varghese, a partner at WilmerHale. “SB 202’s voting restrictions unmistakably discriminate against Black voters, and we will continue our efforts to lift these barriers and protect Georgians’ fundamental right to vote. 

Background: After Georgia voters turned out in record numbers for the 2020 presidential election and U.S. Senate elections in 2021, Georgia legislators passed S.B. 202, a sweeping unconstitutional and racially discriminatory voting law that threatened to create massive barriers to voting, particularly for voters of color.  

In response, voting rights organizations filed AME v. Kemp, a case challenging multiple provisions of S.B. 202 including: 

  • A ban on “line relief,” where volunteers provide water and snacks to people waiting in long lines to vote, a common occurrence at precincts with a large population of voters of color.  
  • A severe restriction on the use of mobile voting units, which have been used to address a shortage of accessible and secure polling locations that previously resulted in long lines of voters at existing and traditional polling locations.  
  • Additional and onerous identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot.  
  • A compressed period for requesting absentee ballots.  
  • Restrictions on the use of secure ballot drop boxes.  
  • Disqualification of provisional ballots cast in a voter’s county of residence but outside the voter’s precinct before 5 p.m. Previously, votes for all the races to which the person was eligible to vote on that precinct’s provisional ballot were counted.  
  • A drastic reduction of early voting in runoff elections.  

The lawsuit describes how S.B. 202 violates voter protections under the 14th and 15th Amendments, as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It also outlines how the “line relief” ban violates the First Amendment right to freedom of expression.