Georgia’s sweeping new voting restrictions have come under attack, with civil rights groups challenging them in court and President Joe Biden saying the US Justice Department is examining what he calls an “atrocity” of a law.
Among other limits, the Republican-backed law enacted on Thursday imposes stricter identification requirements, limits drop boxes, gives lawmakers the power to take over local elections and shortens the early voting period for all run-off elections.
It also makes it a misdemeanour for people to offer food and water to voters in line, in a state where people sometimes wait for hours in the heat to vote.
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.
Biden accused Republicans there and in other states of mounting a broad assault on voting rights.
“It’s an atrocity,” Biden told reporters on Friday, shortly after comparing the restrictions for a second day to racist “Jim Crow” laws, which were put in place in southern states in the decades after the 1861-65 US Civil War to legalise racial segregation and disenfranchise black citizens.
Biden said it was unclear what, if anything, the White House could do to address the law but added the Justice Department was “taking a look”.
He again urged Congress to pass Democratic-backed legislation that would require automatic registration, expand absentee voting and temper voter ID laws.
Thus far, Senate Republicans have stymied that effort.
A coalition of civil rights groups sued the state in Atlanta federal court just hours after Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the legislation into law on Thursday, arguing the measures are intended to make it harder for people – particularly black voters – to cast ballots.
Kemp said the law “ensures election integrity”.
“There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot – every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in person,” he said on Friday. “President Biden, the left, and the national media are determined to destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box.”
Other Republican-controlled state legislatures are pursuing voting restrictions in election battleground states, including Florida and Arizona, after former president Donald Trump repeatedly blamed his loss to Biden on massive voter fraud without evidence.