Georgia yesterday became the first presidential battleground to impose new voting restrictions following President Biden's victory in the state.
The state's changing demographics had made the longtime Republican stronghold a key political battleground last year. In November, Biden became the first Democrat in nearly three decades to win the state. And strong voter turnout in January helped send two Democrats to the US Senate, flipping control of the chamber to their party.
Republicans cast Georgia's measure, dubbed The Election Integrity Act of 2021, as necessary to boost confidence in elections after the 2020 election saw Trump make repeated, unsubstantiated claims of fraud.
By changing its election laws, Gov. Brian Kemp said of the law Thursday, "Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible, and fair."
Kemp, who is up for reelection next year, had refused to give in to former President Trump's demands last year that he overturn Biden's victory — earning Trump's public condemnation. But on Thursday, Kemp said "alarming issues" with the 2020 election demonstrated the need for change.
During Thursday's floor debate, Republican state Rep. Barry Fleming — a key architect of the new law — argued it would provide "more accountability" to the election process in the state.
Officials with Heritage Action for America — one of the national Republican groups leading efforts to clamp down on ballot access in the name of "election integrity" — praised Kemp, lawmakers and the 20,000 conservative activists it said had lobbied lawmakers to pass the overhaul. Georgia's new law makes "the state a model for the rest of the country," Heritage officials said.
Voting rights advocates and state leaders, meanwhile, say the state's rapid-fire action — and plans in other Republican-controlled states to pass restrictions of their own — underscores the need for federal legislation to set a national baseline for voting rules.
Stacey Abrams, the founder of Fair Fight Action and a former Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, said the state's Republicans showed they were intent on "reviving Georgia's dark past of racist voting laws."
"Now, more than ever, Americans must demand federal action to protect voting rights," she said in a statement.
The Georgia bill underwent major change in recent days — growing from a narrow, two-page bill into a sweeping omnibus package to becoming law in a little over a week. Activists and Black religious leaders in the state held rallies and threatened corporate boycotts in an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt its progress through the General Assembly.
Advocates said they were alarmed by measures that will allow any Georgian to lodge an unlimited number of challenges to voter registrations and eligibility, saying it could put a target on voters of color. And Democrats in the Georgia Senate on Thursday lambasted measures that boot the secretary of state as chairman of the state elections board and allow lawmakers to install his replacement, giving lawmakers three of five appointments.
Biden, meanwhile, repeated his call today for Congress to pass voting rights legislation, adding, "This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end."
The bill passed in Georgia is part of a larger effort by GOP-led legislatures across the country to pass restrictive voting measures in key states like Arizona, Michigan and Florida.
As of February, state legislators in 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.