Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp has signed a sweeping elections bill that civil rights groups are blasting as the worst voter suppression legislation since the Jim Crow era. The bill grants broad power to state officials to take control of election management from local and county election boards. It also adds new voter ID requirements, severely limits mail-in ballot drop boxes, rejects ballots cast in the wrong precinct and allows conservative activists to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters. Since the 2020 election, Republican state lawmakers have introduced over 250 bills in 43 states to limit voter access. The elections bill is “extremely egregious” in its restriction of voting rights, says journalist Anoa Changa. “They’re continuing to put processes in place that reinforce these narratives that … have long existed within the Republican toolkit to help get their base fearful in terms of what might come in terms of Black voters and other voters of color.”
AMY GOODMAN: Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp has signed a sweeping elections bill that civil rights groups are blasting as the worst voter suppression legislation since the Jim Crow era. This comes just months after Democrats won two Senate seats in Georgia and Joe Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 28 years.
The bill grants broad power to state officials to take control of election management from local and county election boards. It also adds new voter ID requirements, severely limits mail ballot drop boxes and rejects ballots cast in the wrong precinct. One provision would even make it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line at polling places. Voting rights experts say the bill is specifically designed to make it harder for African Americans to vote. Governor Kemp signed the bill in private, surrounded by six white men.
This comes amidst a nationwide push by Republicans to restrict the vote after Donald Trump lost in November. Since the election, Republican state lawmakers have introduced over 250 bills in 43 states to limit voter access.
On Thursday, President Biden criticized the Republican efforts during his first news conference.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick, deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote, deciding that you’re going to end voting at 5:00 when working people are just getting off work, deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances. …
And so, I am convinced that we’ll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic, what they’re trying to do. And it cannot be sustained. I
AMY GOODMAN: In Georgia, the Black Voters Matter Fund and the New Georgia Project have already sued to overturn the new law, saying it violates the Voting Rights Act and the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
On Thursday, Georgia Democratic state Representative Park Cannon, who’s African American, was arrested by state troopers after she knocked on Governor Kemp’s door, saying the public deserved to witness his statement. She was dragged through the Capitol, pushed into a patrol car, even as she shouted she was an elected official. Newly elected Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock condemned Cannon’s arrest.
SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK: I saw a state representative knocking on the door of the governor, and she was arrested. Meanwhile, we saw a violent insurrectionist attack on the United States Capitol, and police officers died in that case. And I want to know what makes her action so dangerous. … It is that big lie that is the fuel for these terrible voter suppression laws that we see coming out of the state of Georgia. And we have to push hard against the big lie and make sure that we secure the democracy for all of our citizens.
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Georgia, where we’re joined by Anoa Changa. She is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta covering electoral justice and voting rights.
Anoa, thanks so much for joining us again. I mean, this was an amazing night. It wasn’t until about 11:00 last night that the state representative was released from jail. Talk about what happened.
ANOA CHANGA: Yeah, and this is really triggering and reminiscent for a lot of us who were present in 2018 when a representative was arrested in 2018. I’m just, like, really just remembering what happened in 2018. We had a similar instance when a former state senator was also arrested, who is now my congresswoman in the 5th Congressional District — was also arrested in the state Capitol during a protest around voting rights after the 2018 election.
And we’re seeing the same thing now with a second Black woman state elected official being arrested by Capitol Police, just exercising what they feel is their constitutional duty to make sure the public has access to what’s happening behind closed doors in this instance. And we have Representative Park Cannon, who is known to be a very vocal supporter of not just civil rights, but she’s very active in terms of grassroots organizing. In the past several weeks, there have been several protests around these legislations, as well, including a sit-in that happened a few weeks back with Park Cannon, with Representative Cannon, and others in the state House. So, what we’re seeing happening, and the fact that she’s being charged with felony obstruction, is really their way of —
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, I want to go for a minute, Anoa, to that moment —
ANOA CHANGA: Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: — as the governor announces he had signed the bill. He did it in private, by the way. Democratic state Representative Park Cannon, who’s African American, knocks on his door, saying the public deserved to witness his statement, arrested by several Georgia state troopers, dragged through the Capitol, pushed into a patrol car, even as she shouted she was an elected official. And Cannon’s arrest was witnessed by fellow Democratic state Representative Erica Thomas.
REP. ERICA THOMAS: But you’re going to tell me that you arrested a sitting state representative for nothing? She didn’t do anything but knock on the governor’s door. I’m done! I’m so done! I’m so done! Protect and serve who?
AMY GOODMAN: So, it is really an astounding moment. But the most important thing is to talk about what they were there for, to witness this. We see a photograph that came out of — usually he signs in public these bills, but now he signs in private, and he is surrounded by six white men, Governor Kemp. Talk about what was signed and why this is the most restrictive voter suppression law in the country right now.
ANOA CHANGA: Yeah. I mean, again, we saw this same exact reaction happen from the Capitol Police at the behest of Brian Kemp in 2018, when Representative — now Representative, Congresswoman Nikema Williams, then state senator, was also dragged out of the state Capitol in the same manner and thrown into a paddy wagon with several other protesters. So we’ve seen this. We know the hostility that they have against their counterparts across the aisle.
But what was signed is extremely egregious, even though some of the more egregious portions were taken out of the bill. And there is this thing that they do also with trying to make it look like, oh, this is a bipartisan because it includes things that both Republicans and Democrats wanted, to try and make it seem like they are taking the higher road and actually doing a good thing. However, what we do know is that this will increase the burden on folks who are trying to vote absentee by requiring an ID requirement, so making people who are filing absentee ballot applications to provide a copy of their ID at the application stage and then when they’re casting a ballot. That’s an undue burden on people who do not have access to copy machines, who do not have access to scanners, already on top of for folks who may not have the ability to scan or fax in or email in their application or who have to mail it in anyway.
We know that they have tried to reduce early voting. The provision that was trying to remove Sunday voting did not pass, but now the Sunday voting is an optional measure that is in there. We also see that while they are trying to make it possible so that some of the ballots can be processed before election night, which is something that kind of contributed to the backlog we had here during the election, at the same time, they are shortening the window for requesting absentee ballots. So, instead of making absentee ballots be postmarked or due postmarked on Election Day, with some reasonable amount to receive afterwards, as several states do, they’ve actually shortened the period so that people have a shorter amount of time to be able to request an absentee ballot, in the theory that the absentee ballots would be received earlier. But that’s not the best solution.
We also see, like you mentioned in your opening, the usurping of power from local and county elected officials, particularly at the whim of a Republican majority that just simply doesn’t like the way they’re doing their job. We often see the Fulton County Election Board dragged before various hearings or just thrown out there as an example of a county board of election that is not doing what they want them to do.
We have this requirement now of in-person surveillance of absentee drop ballot boxes, as well as restrictions on where absentee ballot drop boxes can be placed, as well as the times that they are allowed to be open and available. And so, these are also things that add an undue burden in terms of costs on the counties. And it’s actually not known how much more this is going to cost the counties or where that money is even going to come from. So there are huge implications already.
And one of the other things that you touched on, and something I wrote about right ahead of the general election, is the “line warming” prohibitions. You know, the law is mandating that no one be allowed to give out water or food or anything else to people who are standing in line waiting within 150 feet of a polling location. That distinction is very, like — that is a very particular distinction, because that is the distance away that folks have to be to not be considered electioneering if they’re representing a partisan group or a candidate. And so, they have already tried, prior to this law’s passage, during the general election, to claim and go after various different groups. I wrote about some organizers down in Southwest Georgia who were targeted and claimed to be electioneering as a nonpartisan group engaged in line warming.
The other thing folks need to understand is that you can’t actually — by law, already, you cannot give people anything of value to vote. So that’s why you can’t give people special deals or meals or things like that for their vote alone. And so, what a lot of organizers have traditionally done, because of the way the law has been interpreted, has been to give it to anyone in the vicinity — community members, poll workers themselves, so anyone. So, they are really laying this out in the law specifically to target this activity that is engaged in almost exclusively by predominantly groups of color that are nonpartisan, that are simply seeking to help alleviate some of the burden that is input on people who are either in the general community wanting to engage in a civic process or people who are standing in line because of the long lines, because of so many of the issues that have been created by mismanagement by the state Election Board.
And we see Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger losing some authority within his role and being removed as the chair of the state Election Board, which will now be at the discretion and selection of the state Legislature. This is in direct response to a lot of the pushback amongst Trump and his supporters around Raffensperger’s handling of the election.
And so, we see — also, the other thing I forgot, the creation of a new voter fraud hotline. There is literally a minuscule threat of voter fraud nationally in any given moment. We did not have any valid, viable indication of massive voter fraud here in Georgia, either, and yet they’re continuing to put processes in place that reinforce these narratives that were a part of the big lie but have long existed within the Republican toolkit to help get their base fearful of what might come in terms of Black voters and other voters of color. And I will —
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Anoa Changa, I want to thank you so much for being with us, freelance journalist based in Atlanta, Georgia, covering electoral justice and voting rights comprehensively.
Georgia activists have also launched a statewide boycott of Coca-Cola, which is based in Georgia, after the corporation failed to denounce voter suppression. This from The Guardian, that activists were placing pressure on Coca-Cola, as well as Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, Aflac, UPS and Southern Company, all based in Georgia, to use their political clout to work against these voter suppression laws.
And finally, the now-congressmember that you mentioned, Nikema Williams, tweeted, “We played by their rules & WON. Now #Georgia Republicans are changing the rules to make it harder to vote. Brian Kemp just signed a sweeping voter suppression bill into law. Here in the south we know how to fight Jim Crow. We’ll see you in court AND in Congress with #HR1,” she said.
Well, when we come back, we’ll speak to actor and activist Danny Glover. He’s going south today. He’s going to Bessemer, Alabama, to show his support once again for the historic unionization drive at the Amazon warehouse. Stay with us.