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Feds file suit to overturn parts of new Georgia voting law

“Where we believe the civil rights of Americans have been violated, we will not hesitate to act,” he said.

Georgia Republicans say the law is not discriminatory, and that complaints against it are designed to rile up Democratic voters ahead of next year’s elections.

“They are weaponizing the U.S. Department of Justice to carry out their far-left agenda that undermines election integrity and empowers federal government overreach in our democracy,” Gov. Brian Kemp said.

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Providing the facts and context that help readers understand the current debate over voting laws is a priority for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Our journalists work hard to be fair and will follow this complex story as it continues to develop.

For a better understanding of the issues that drove Legislative action and reaction that followed, click on these links.

How Georgia’s voting law works

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15 headlines that explain the debate

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed SB 202 on a party-line vote in response to President Donald Trump’s accusations of widespread fraud in the November election. Democrat Joe Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes. In failed lawsuits, Trump said tens of thousands of ineligible people cast ballots in Georgia.

Recounts and audits confirmed Biden’s victory. A slew of lawsuits that sought to overturn the results went nowhere, and election experts called the allegations of fraud “wildly unreliable” and “worthless.” While investigators are investigating more than 100 complaints from November, they would not change the election result even if every allegation is substantiated.

Democrats say SB 202 is based on Trump’s “big lie” of election fraud and is a deliberate attempt to suppress the votes of minority Georgians. Black voters have, for several decades, overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates.

Republicans say the law is a prudent response to concerns about election security, and that it remains easier to vote in Georgia than in many states controlled by Democrats.

“The Biden Administration continues to do the bidding of (Democrat and voting rights advocate) Stacey Abrams and spreads more lies about Georgia’s election law,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court.”

ExploreHow Georgia’s voting law works

Critics of the law immediately applauded the Justice Department’s legal challenge, which came after Republicans blocked federal election legislation sponsored by the majority Democrats in Congress.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams said it affirms concerns Democrats and voting rights activists have had all along.

“The Department of Justice stepping in today is a big step in this whole process of making sure that everyone’s right to vote is safe and secure and that you have access no matter where you live,” said Williams, who also serves as chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia.

Voting rights advocates also framed it as a warning to other GOP-led states considering new voting restrictions. Bishop Reginald Jackson of the AME Church’s Sixth District, who has led boycotts in protests of the changes, said it would bring more scrutiny of “racist and unjust legislation that was steamrolled into our state.”

”We must shine a powerful light on the motivations and implications behind this legislation and begin our focus in making sure more people have the ability to vote, rather than less,” he said.

Garland said the state’s new election law violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it was written to make it harder for Black people to vote in various ways.

Among the provisions in SB 202 being challenged: restrictions on third parties sending out absentee ballot applications and fines for violations; provisions banning outside groups from handing out food and water in voting lines; new absentee ballot request and return deadlines; and restrictions on the use of drop boxes.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke also said the state law contained “new and unnecessarily stringent identification requirements to obtain an absentee ballot” and criticized portions that disqualify provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

“It’s well documented that communities of color change residences more frequently than other populations,” she said. “And because of this greater residential mobility and polling site closures and consolidations, Black voters are more likely to end up at the wrong precinct on Election Day.”

Much as they railed against the Justice Department’s lawsuit, the court challenge was welcome news for Kemp and other vulnerable GOP incumbents eager to rally the fractious party base against a common enemy.

The governor, in particular, is facing ongoing fallout with conservatives upset he didn’t do more to help former President Donald Trump overturn his election defeat. Just as Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the All-Star game galvanized Republicans, GOP officials hope the lawsuit could further energize the party’s base.

That sentiment was reflected in a wave of reactions from leading Republican officials in Georgia and their allies. House Speaker David Ralston slammed the “partisan pageantry” of the legal challenge. And former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who started the Greater Georgia organization to promote conservative electoral policies, said Biden’s administration was in for a tough fight.

”We will deploy every necessary resource to help defend this legislation from liberal overreach in Washington,” she said.

Staff writers Mark Niesse and James Salzer contributed to this report