U.S. civil rights teams sue Georgia over sweeping new voting restrictions

(Reuters) – A coalition of civil rights groups has filed a federal lawsuit against Georgia’s sweeping new voting restrictions, arguing that the Republican-backed bill aims to make it difficult for people – especially black voters – to cast ballots.

The law included stricter identification requirements and limited dropboxes, gave lawmakers the power to hold local elections, and shortened the early voting deadline for all runoff elections. It also makes it a crime for the people to offer food and water to the voters standing in line.

The legislature has alarmed the Democrats, who a few months ago celebrated historic victories in the presidential election and two Senate campaigns in Georgia that helped transfer control of the White House and the US Senate to their party in Washington.

The complaint was filed in federal court in Atlanta just hours after the legislation went into effect on Thursday by the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise, Inc. Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who led the party’s electoral efforts last year, represents the groups.

“These provisions have no justification for their onerous and discriminatory effects on voting,” the lawsuit said.

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

Other Republican-controlled lawmakers are pursuing election restrictions in key battlefield states, including Florida and Arizona, after former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed President Joe Biden for massive election fraud with no evidence.

Republicans have defended the legislation as necessary to make “our elections fair and safe,” as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp put it when he signed the law Thursday.

Democrats and proxies lamented the restrictions, which lawmakers passed solely with the support of Republicans, as a revival of racially discriminatory electoral laws that will harm voters in minority communities already plagued by long lines and inadequate electoral infrastructure.

Prominent voting advocate and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called the bill “Jim Crow in a Suit” on Twitter, referring to the era of racist laws that ruled the southern US for decades. At a press conference in Washington on Thursday, Biden described the call for new electoral borders across the country as “un-American”.

When he denied 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 asked him to find voices that Trump said had disappeared.

This call is part of a prosecutor’s criminal investigation into whether Trump broke electoral law by pressuring officials to change the results.

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

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell

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