Within a matter of hours, a sweeping elections bill passed both chambers of the Georgia Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday evening.
The new bill imposes voter identification restrictions for absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it illegal to approach voters in line and provide them with food or water, all just months after the Georgia battleground state turned blue amid narrow Democratic victories in the previous election cycle.
“Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible, and fair,” Kemp said of the change in election laws.
Voting rights groups say the new bill will disproportionately impact voters of color. Demonstrators gathered outside of the state Capitol Thursday in protest of the bill.
“We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era,” said Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler.
The Georgia law requires an ID to vote absentee by mail and limits both the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot and where ballot drop boxes can be placed.
Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon was arrested in the Capitol after knocking on the door of Kemp’s office as he signed the bill, which will also give state officials increased power to take over local elections boards, raising concerns of greater partisan influence. Cannon was led away in handcuffs by Georgia state troopers and charged with felony obstruction of law enforcement, punishable by 1 to 5 years in prison.
In a statement Thursday night, Georgia State Patrol said that at 6:33 p.m., Cannon “was beating on the door to the Governor’s Office,” and, when told to stop, moved on to the Governor’s Ceremonial Office door marked with a “Governor’s Staff Only” sign and knocked on that door. Cannon has since been released on bond.
President Joe Biden called the Republican efforts to change the laws in Georgia following record-breaking turnouts in the state “un-American” and “sick” on Thursday in his first news conference as president.
“The Republican voters I know find this despicable, Republican voters, the folks outside this White House. I’m not talking about the elected officials. I’m talking about voters. Voters. And so I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing.” Biden said.
On social media, many users criticized Kemp for signing a bill that “would have made segregationists happy.”
GOP-led legislatures are seeking to pass similarly restrictive bills in other key states like Arizona, Michigan and Florida.
Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who was praised last year for her work that helped secure Democratic victories in Georgia, released a statement about the new restrictive bill, saying ‘Now, more than ever, Americans must demand federal action to protect voting rights.”
Legal challenges to the bill were filed on the same day Kemp signed it when three groups asked the U.S. District Court in Atlanta to strike down certain parts of the new legislation as violations of the federal Voting Rights Act.