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DOJ Says Georgia's New Voting Law Restricts The Black Vote

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The U.S. Department of Justice has taken a big step back to push back against new state-level voting restrictions. Yesterday, the department announced a lawsuit against the state of Georgia over the controversial voting law it enacted in March. The DOJ says the discriminatory effect of Georgia's law, particularly on Black voters, was known to Republican lawmakers who nonetheless pushed for its passage. Georgia Public Broadcasting Stephen Fowler is here to tell us more. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having me.

MCCAMMON: What are the allegations here from the Department of Justice?

FOWLER: Well, they say that Georgia law violates Section 2 of the landmark Voting Rights Act. Here's Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. She's head of the department's civil rights division.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRISTEN CLARKE: Our complaint challenges several provisions of SB 202 on the grounds that they were adopted with the intent to deny or abridge Black citizens equal access to the political process.

FOWLER: She really ticked through a number of provisions of the law she says are discriminatory, like a ban on government entities issuing unsolicited absentee ballot applications, shortening the deadline to request absentee ballots, limits on drop boxes. She says all of these reduce access to absentee voting, pushing Black voters - who used absentee voting in big numbers last year - to in-person voting. And historically, Black voters are also more likely to encounter long lines at the polls.

MCCAMMON: So what has been the response from the state of Georgia?

FOWLER: Well, Republican leadership have blasted this lawsuit. They say this is the Biden administration weaponizing the DOJ after Democrats' big voting overhaul was stymied in the Senate earlier this week. Here's Governor Brian Kemp, yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BRIAN KEMP: If you support the Constitution and the rule of law, they are coming to force their agenda on you and your community. And they're not afraid to use the full force of the federal government to do this, but I will tell you right now, we are not backing down. I am not backing down.

FOWLER: And I should also note Georgia's Secretary Of State Brad Raffensperger has also harshly criticized this suit. Both men have been under fire from former President Trump for not doing enough to overturn the election in his favor. And they're both facing pro-Trump primary challengers.

MCCAMMON: And, Stephen, this action by the Justice Department comes as Attorney General Merrick Garland has pledged that protecting voter rights is a key priority for him. What does the DOJ want to accomplish in this case?

FOWLER: Well, the government wants a judge to block these challenged sections from Georgia's massive 98-page voting law. They want to authorize federal observers and some limited preclearance of certain voting changes under another part of the Voting Rights Act. And Garland did specifically call on Congress to restore Section 5 of the VRA. It's another provision that was gutted by the Supreme Court eight years ago yesterday.

This is also not the first lawsuit challenging Georgia's SB 202. There have been seven others filed by different parties that challenge virtually every aspect of these changes. And all of it follows the 2020 election and Senate runoffs this year that made Georgia such a crucial state, politically, with more elections for governor and Senate to come next year.

MCCAMMON: That is Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Thanks, Stephen.

FOWLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLIMLIP AND SLING DILLY'S "OBIDOS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.