Biden blasts new Georgia voting laws as civil rights group sue

The new voting restrictions, signed into law on Thursday, are drawing widespread criticism from Democrats across the US.

Democrats and voting rights activists are alarmed by the new Georgia voting laws enacted on Thursday [File: Dustin Chambers/Reuters]

President Joe Biden has condemned a new voting law in Georgia as “an atrocity” and “a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience”.

In a statement on Friday, Biden described the law, which the state’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed on Thursday after the Republican-dominated legislature passed it, as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century”, referring to the laws once used to suppress the vote of African Americans.

Among other limits, the law imposed stricter identification requirements, limited drop boxes, gave lawmakers the power to take over local elections and shortened the early voting period for all runoff elections. It also makes it a misdemeanour for people to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.

“It’s an atrocity,” Biden said on Friday at the White House. “If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can’t provide water to people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote? You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting. You can’t provide water for people about to vote. Give me a break.”

Biden later told reporters that he is not sure what the White House can do about the law but said they are “working on that right now” and added the US Justice Department is “taking a look as well.”

The legislation has alarmed Democrats, who just months ago celebrated historic wins in the presidential election and two Senate campaigns in Georgia that helped deliver the White House and US Senate control to their party in Washington.

Meanwhile, a coalition of civil rights groups has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the new voting restrictions, arguing that the Republican-backed law is intended to make it harder for people – particularly Black voters – to cast ballots.

The complaint was filed in Atlanta federal court just hours after the legislation became law on Thursday by the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise, Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who spearheaded the party’s election legal efforts last year, is representing the groups.

“These provisions lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting,” the lawsuit said.

“Instead, they represent a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters.”

Stacey Abrams, prominent voting rights advocate and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, called the law “Jim Crow 2.0” on Twitter.

Republicans have defended the legislation as necessary to make “our elections fair and secure”, as Kemp put it when signing the bill into law on Thursday.

Democratic state representative Park Cannon, who is Black, was arrested by Georgia Capitol police amid a protest after knocking on the door of the governor’s office during his remarks.

Video captured by a bystander shows Cannon, who is handcuffed with her arms behind her back, being forcibly removed from the Capitol by two officers, one on each arm. She says “where are you taking me?” and “stop” as she is taken from the building.

Cannon was charged with felony obstruction of law enforcement, punishable by one to five years in prison, and with disrupting a session of the General Assembly. She was released late on Thursday night.

Other Republican-controlled state legislatures are pursuing voting restrictions in key battleground states, including Florida and Arizona, after former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed his loss to Biden on massive voter fraud without evidence.

As he contested his national loss to Biden, Trump focused much of his energy on Georgia. At one point, he personally called the state’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and urged him to “find” votes Trump claimed had gone missing.

That phone call is part of a criminal investigation by state prosecutors into whether Trump broke election laws by pressuring officials to alter the results.

Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies