The Department of Justice under President Joe Biden announced on Friday that it is suing the state of Georgia over a new election law the state passed in March.
“Today the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia,” Attorney General Merrick Garland announced in a press conference. “Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of black Georgians to vote.”
The new Georgia law, known as the Election Integrity Act of 2021, requires voter identification for absentee ballots and limits the number of absentee ballot drop boxes while expanding the number of days allowed for early in-person voting.
The Georgia election law has also drawn criticism for prohibiting volunteers handing out food or water to those waiting in line, unless it is first provided to election officials for general distribution to the public. Republican Georgia state election official Gabriel Sterling has argued that the particular provision is in line with ones used by other states, such as New York, that have barred people from providing food or drink to those waiting in line at the polls.
Garland said the DOJ’s lawsuit is meant to ensure “that all eligible voters can cast a vote, that all lawful votes are counted, and that every voter has access to accurate information.”
Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke said the Georgia law violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race.
Clarke said black voters are a growing voter base in Georgia and that they heavily use absentee ballots. Clarke said the lawsuit challenges the Georgia law’s provisions on absentee ballots “on the grounds that they were adopted with the intent to deny or abridge black citizens equal access to the political process.”
Clarke said Georgia’s absentee ballot measures, like requiring identification and limiting absentee ballot request periods, “Reduce access to absentee voting at each step of the process, pushing more black voters to in-person voting, where they will be more likely than white voters to confront long lines.”
She said the law “then imposes additional obstacles to casting an in-person ballot.”
Clarke said the Georgia law includes “new and unnecessarily stringent identification requirements to obtain an absentee ballot.”
The Georgia law further prohibits election officials from distributing unsolicited absentee ballots throughout the state, as they did in the 2020 election.
Clarke said the law “irrationally limits” the period during which voters can request absentee ballots and the period during which election officials can send them.
During the 2020 election, Clarke said voters could request an absentee ballot up to 180 days before the election up until the Friday before election day. The new Georgia law moved the final deadline up by a week.
Clarke said that the difference in the absentee ballot request deadline from the Friday before an election to a week earlier is a critical time period in which “data shows that black voters are more likely than white voters to request an absentee ballot.”
Clarke said the lawsuit also challenges the Georgia law’s limits on ballot drop boxes, which she said were heavily employed throughout majority-black voting districts.
The DOJ announced its lawsuit just days after a Democrat-led bill, which had passed in the House of Representatives, stalled in the Senate on a 50-50 party-line vote, falling short of the 60 needed to pass.
Former President Donald Trump criticized the DOJ lawsuit in a statement Friday. Trump has raised repeated challenges to the 2020 Georgia election results, which went for Biden by about 12,000 votes or about .3 percent of the vote total. Biden won after absentee ballot counting was completed days after election day. Trump and other critics questioned the validity of the absentee ballots that were counted.
“Biden’s Department of Justice just announced that they are suing the Great State of Georgia over its Election Integrity Act,” Trump wrote. “Actually, it should be the other way around! The PEOPLE of Georgia should SUE the State, and their elected officials, for running a CORRUPT AND RIGGED 2020 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION—and for trying to suppress the VOTE of the AMERICAN PEOPLE in Georgia. If we don’t address these issues from the 2020 Election head on, and we allow the Radical Left Democrats to continue to politicize the DOJ and Law Enforcement, we will lose our Country. SAVE AMERICA!”
Lawsuits challenging to the 2020 Georgia election results have continued for months since the election and Biden’s January inauguration. This week a Georgia Judge ruled in favor of allowing an inspection of about 150,000 absentee ballots in Fulton County. That ballot inspection was requested as part of a lawsuit filed in December.
Garland said the DOJ is also looking at other states’ election laws. He said the DOJ is also crafting guidance “to ensure that all post-election audits comply with federal law” and other guidance for early voting and voting by mail.