by Stone Washington, Emerging Leaders’ Council Member
With fear over the Covid-19 pandemic came the historic increase in absentee ballots cast during the 2020 election. Following the election, a significant lack of faith in Georgia’s election systems emerged and many electors grew concerned over burdensome pandemic restrictions and allegations of rampant voter fraud.
In order to address this lack of confidence, streamline the voting process to ensure uniformity, and reduce the burden on election workers, the Georgia Senate Bill 202 was passed by the Georgia state legislature in March 2021.
Coined the “Election Integrity Act 2021”, it tightens the period of absentee voting, imposes fines against advocacy groups and churches that distribute follow-up absentee ballots applications, limits absentee drop box locations, prohibits the undue influence of groups providing food and water to voters in line, requires some form of identification to voters who do not show proof of a Georgia driver’s license, and allows counties to offer voting on weekends. These constitute as some of the many essential steps taken by the state to prevent fraud and inaccuracy from mail-in-voting, protect voters from being unduly subjected to biased influence by interest groups, while also ensuring that only those who are properly registered to vote can reasonably cast their ballots.
Progressive Complaints About the Law
Despite these essential modifications to Georgia’s election systems, many Progressive interest groups have taken issue with these changes and have alleged that this law unduly burdens the ability for minority citizens to vote in the state. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Republican proponents of the law argue that it reinforces the state election system to make it easier for legal citizens to vote and harder for nefarious actors to cheat.
The voting law currently faces eight separate lawsuits from groups like the ACLU of Georgia, the Georgia NAACP, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, suing over claims of racial discrimination and the imposition of measures that make it difficult for Hispanics and Blacks to reasonably vote.
Georgia state officials retaliated against the lawsuits by filing a motion to dismiss, alleging that plaintiffs lacked proper standing to sue and have not suffered any harm from the law. Stating a need to assess the facts, Trump-appointed U.S. District Court Judge JP Boulee recently denied the request from Georgia officials to toss out the proposed legal challenges, allowing the suits to move forward to the review stage at the Federal District Court in Northern Georgia.
Spearheading the challenges to the Georgia Senate Bill 202 is an aggressive lawsuit issued by the Department of Justice to challenge the “racially discriminatory provisions” perceived from the voting law. In order for any race-based challenge against Georgia’s voting law to succeed in court, it would need to overcome a substantial burden of proof to sufficiently connect the claims of racial discrimination to the intent for states to ensure free and fair elections, following the precedent set by the Supreme Court decision of Brnovich v. Democrat National Committee.
The End Result
The 6-3 opinion administered by Justice Alito safeguarded two Arizona election policies—one outlawing ballot harvesting and another that banned out-of-precinct voting—that are similar to several provisions of the Georgia law. As a result of this decision, many legal experts have predicted that the legal challenges to Georgia’s voting measures are unlikely to succeed, arguing that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act sets a high burden to nullify only state voting laws that impose a severe burden on minority voters, aren’t justified in its reasoning for the changes made, and only if the state’s electoral system is not open to all voters.
It is evident that Georgia’s voting law does not violate any of the above standards and will likely survive the heated legal challenges to come.