LDF’s Lawsuit Challenging Georgia’s Voter Suppression Law

On March 30 2021, LDF and civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s sweeping new voter suppression law, S.B. 202, that will restrict access to voting and disproportionately burden voters of color, new citizens and religious communities. The lawsuit charges that provisions of S.B. 202 violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and infringe on Georgians’ rights under the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

LDF and its co-counsel filed an amended complaint on May 24 2021 which you can read here. Three Georgia-based disability rights groups- The Arc GeorgiaGeorgia ADAPT, and the Georgia Advocacy Office,- as well as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference joined as plaintiffs. 

On August 18, 2023, a federal court in the Northern District of Georgia issued rulings in response to emergency motions filed by civil rights groups to lift restrictions put in place by Georgia’s anti-voter law, S.B. 202, for the 2024 elections. 

The rulings blocked portions of the bill that ban Georgians from providing food and water to voters waiting in lines more than 150 feet from the polls, and that require voters to unnecessarily include their birthdate on absentee ballot envelopes. 

The challenged portions of SB 202 added impediments to voting that made it harder for all Georgians to vote, particularly voters of color. The lawsuit — Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Kemp — was filed in 2021. 

The court sided with the plaintiffs in ruling that Georgia’s ban on providing food and water to voters waiting in lines further than 150 feet from the polls likely violated their First Amendment right to free expression. Groups and individuals may now provide relief to voters in the 2024 elections who are waiting in long lines that stretch more than 150 feet from the polling location entrance. 

The court also struck down, for purposes of the 2024 elections, the requirement that Georgia voters provide their birthdate on their absentee ballot envelope or have their ballot rejected. 

Because Georgia determines whether someone is qualified to vote not only upon registration but also through the absentee ballot application process, the court ruled that rejecting a voter’s absentee ballot because they failed to provide a birthdate or provided the wrong date on their ballot envelope violates a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbidding denying someone the right to vote based on an immaterial error or omission. 

LDF's lawsuit challenges multiple provisions in S.B. 202:

But since the passage of S.B. 202, a campaign of misinformation about the bill has been circulating suggesting that the bill doesn’t harm voting rights, and in fact expands voting access.

Here's the truth about what S.B. 202 actually does and how it was enacted:

Criminalizes offering food and water

Makes it a crime to give or to “offer to give” food and water to individuals waiting in line to vote. Overall, Black voters are likely to wait 45% longer in line to vote than white voters. Black Georgians, on average, wait nearly 1 hour to vote; white voters only 6 minutes. In the 2020 primary election, Black voters in Fulton County waited over 5 hours to vote. During the early voting period in the 2020 General Election, some Fulton County voters waited more than 10 hours to cast a ballot.

Restricts Absentee Voting

Places unnecessary, burdensome, and new restrictions on absentee voting. This would require voters to provide a photocopy of and mail sensitive identification information to request a ballot. Similar sensitive information, including a voter’s social security number, may be required to return an absentee ballot – including on the outside of the ballot envelope.

Photo ID Requirements

While the law allows for a “free” state-issued ID for those who do not have one, driver’s license offices in Georgia’s Black Belt include 21 contiguous and predominantly Black rural counties where those offices are open 2 days per week or fewer. Additionally, studies show that the actual cost for “free IDs” typically range from $75 - $175 after factoring in documentation, travel and waiting time.

Dropbox Restrictions

Allows for the use of secure drop boxes, but caps the total number, limits where they can be located, requires them to be placed inside a polling location (outside of an emergency), limits the hours, limits their use and availability to only during the early voting period, and imposes new in-person security requirements. These limitations on secure drop box use and availability will disproportionately impact Black voters and other historically disenfranchised groups.

Unlimited Voter Challenges

Codifies that Georgia electors can submit unlimited challenges to the right of any voter to remain registered or to cast a vote. This is an invitation to unfettered voter intimidation. After the November 2020 election, there were several mass baseless and untimely voter challenges – including one challenging the eligibility of 360,000 Georgia voters. S.B. 202 allows even greater opportunity for challenges despite no significant findings from challenges in November.

Severely restricts the use of mobile voting units (used in Fulton County recently)
Needlessly reduces the advance voting period for runoffs from three weeks to one week, with no mandatory weekend voting days, including Sunday voting.
Provisional ballot restrictions

Invalidates provisional votes cast in the correct county, but the wrong precinct. Prior law allowed these votes to be counted if cast in the proper county. This will disproportionately affect voters of color, which have seen an increased number of polling location closures and changes, thereby increasing the need to vote provisionally.

Unilaterally empowers the State Board of Election to take over the process of disqualifying ballots across the state, removing that power from county boards of election. This provision also removes the Secretary of State from its role as both the chair and a voting member of the state board. The legislature, which already appoints two of the five board members, will now appoint the new chair, giving it majority control of the state board.

While these provisions are terrible on their own, the totality of the law – and all the ways voters will be suppressed – makes it one of the most restrictive laws in the nation.

S.B. 202 is a Direct Response to Increased Black Voter Participation

  • More than 5 million Georgians voted in the 2020 General Election and nearly 4.5 million did so again in the 2021 runoff elections — despite an ongoing global pandemic.
  • In advance of the 2020 General Election, there was a 25% increase in Black voter registration compared to 2016. And while, in the past, Black voter turnout has dropped significantly in special elections, in the 2021 Runoff Election, Black voter turnout was almost 92% of that in the General, a higher percentage than for white voters.
  • In the 2020 General Election, more than 1.3 million absentee ballots were cast. Nearly 30% of Black voters cast their ballot by mail. In fact, according to Georgia’s elections data, Black voters account for almost 42% of absentee ballot requests.

The Legislature Revealed Its Intent in the Days Following the Certification of the Votes for President Biden and Vice President Harris

  • Republican legislators repeated false claims of election insecurity and voter fraud as a guise for passing suppressive legislation framed as bills promoting “election security.”
  • On the same day that the Biden-Harris electoral victory was certified (Jan. 7, 2021), Georgia’s Speaker of the House announced a new election integrity commission.
  • By February, and through March 2021, Republicans in the legislature proposed more than 50 pieces of legislation that would restrict access to voting.

S.B. 202 Passed on March 25, 2021, Following a Rushed and Non-Transparent Legislative Process, and Without a Record to Justify the Bill’s Provisions

  • 90+ page bills were introduced at 11 p.m., with hearings on them the next day at 7 a.m. Little to no information was provided on who could testify or how.
  • There were never any hearings or substantive data presented on the allegations of voter fraud to attempt to justify the bills.
  • To the contrary, this took place in the context of the assertion by the Secretary of State in December 2020 that his office found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
  • The very same allegations of voter fraud were vehemently and repeatedly shot down by Republican elected officials during and after the 2020 General Election.
  • The results of the 2020 General Election in Georgia were repeatedly counted – including by hand – and certified. There was never any evidence of voter fraud.
  • Governor Kemp signed the bill into law in a closed-door, private ceremony during which a Black state legislator was arrested after she knocked on the door to the room.

Georgia is Not Alone

The Threat in Other States

Georgia’s S.B. 202 is just one of the many voter suppression bills driven by baseless allegations of fraud introduced in the wake of the 2020 election. Legislators are following the model set in Georgia – using false information to stoke fear in an otherwise secure electoral process. The Brennan Center’s State Voting Bills Tracker counts more than 400 restrictive voting bills introduced in legislatures across the country. 

  • In Michigan, legislators have introduced 39 voter suppression bills just months after a record 5.5 million people voted. Among the restrictions included in the bills, absentee ballots could only be returned using a drop box until 5 p.m. the day before the election; the Secretary of State would be prevented from sending out mass absentee ballot applications; and prepaid postage for absentee ballot return envelopes would be prohibited.
  • On September 7, Texas passed an extremely restrictive voting bill, S.B. 1. Among the measures that will impact voters of color, S.B. 1 reduces early voting hours and eliminates 24-hour voting, eliminates drive-thru voting centers, prohibits mail-in ballot drop-boxes, and places new restrictions on the distribution of mail-in ballots and mail-in ballot applications. LDF filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 1.
  • In Florida, S.B. 90 was passed on April 29 with provisions that include eliminating drop boxes altogether; adding ID requirements to vote-by-mail applications; and eliminating the ability for the Secretary of Elections to automatically send vote-by-mail ballots to voters. LDF filed a lawsuit challenging S.B. 90.