Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke Delivers Remarks on Justice Department Lawsuit Against the State of Georgia to Stop Racially Discriminatory Provisions of New Voting Law

4 months ago
AMERICA NEWS NOW

Thank you, Attorney General Garland.

Two weeks ago, you made clear that the department will spare no effort to protect voting rights in this country. As you and I have discussed on many occasions, the Civil Rights Division stands on the front lines of this work. While it is the honor of a lifetime to lead the division charged with upholding the nation’s civil rights laws, it is also a great responsibility.

Today, that responsibility requires that I announce the division has found it necessary to file suit against the State of Georgia. The Civil Rights Division did not arrive at this decision lightly. It’s our job to follow the facts and the law, and, in this case, our careful assessment of the facts and the law demonstrates that Georgia’s recent voting rights law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

I want to thank the Voting Section for their tremendous efforts on this complaint in everything that they do. And I want to express my appreciation to the Acting U.S. Attorney and staff of the Northern District of Georgia for their partnership and support.

Our complaint today alleges that several provisions of SB 202 were passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The Georgia legislature passed SB 202 through a rushed process that departed from normal practice and procedure. The version of the bill that passed the State Senate on March 8th was three pages long. Days later the bill ballooned into over 90 pages in the House. The House held less than two hours of floor debate on the newly inflated SB 202 before Governor Kemp signed it into law the same day.

These legislative actions occurred at a time when the Black population in Georgia continues to steadily increase and after a historic election that saw record voter turnout across the state, particularly for absentee voting which Black voters are now more likely to use than white voters.

Our complaint challenges several provisions of SB 202 on the grounds that they were adopted with the intent to deny or abridge Black citizens equal access to the political process.

The provisions we are challenging 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. SB 202 then imposes additional obstacles to casting an in-person ballot.

Like all of the provisions in SB 202, the changes to absentee voting were not made in a vacuum. These changes come immediately after successful absentee voting in the 2020 election cycle, especially among Black voters. SB 202 seeks to halt and reverse this progress.

First, the law prohibits election officials from distributing unsolicited applications for absentee ballots as they did during 2020.

The law irrationally shortens both the period during which voters can request absentee ballots and the period during which election officials can mail them out to voters. In the 2020 election cycle, a voter in Georgia could request an absentee ballot up to 180-days before an election and up until the Friday before Election Day.

Under SB 202, the state moved the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot by a week, a critical time period close to Election Day, where data shows that Black voters are more likely than white voters to request an absentee ballot.

SB 202 imposes substantial fines on third-party organizations, churches, and advocacy groups that send follow up absentee ballot applications, and requires new and unnecessarily stringent identification requirements to obtain an absentee ballot.

We are also challenging a provision of SB 202 that places restrictions on drop boxes and would limit access and ease of voter participation. In the 2020 elections and the 2021 run-off election, the Georgia State Election Board allowed voters to drop off absentee ballots in drop boxes. This method of voting was widely deployed in the metro Atlanta area where the largest Black voting age population in Georgia resides.

During the 2020 election cycle, the four most populous counties in the metro Atlanta area provided over 100 drop box locations for voters. Under the bill, that number is expected to drop to roughly twenty.

The drafters of SB 202 did not stop their efforts at making absentee voting more difficult. Historically, minority voters in Georgia have been disproportionately more likely to wait in long lines to vote in-person on Election Day.

Given those long and protracted wait times, civic groups -- including churches -- have at times provided food and water to voters in line to make their wait more comfortable. SB 202 bans the distribution of food and drinks to voters in line. As we allege in our complaint, this needless ban was passed with unlawful discriminatory intent.

Finally, our complaint challenges a provision of SB 202 that reduces the likelihood that out of precinct provisional ballots will be counted. It’s well documented that communities of color change residences more frequently than other populations. And because of this greater residential mobility, and polling site closures and consolidations, Black voters are more likely to end up at the wrong precinct on Election Day. SB 202 reduces the chances that those eligible voters will have their ballot counted.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, one of our nation’s bedrock civil rights statutes, prohibits the enforcement of any voting practice or procedure that has the purpose of denying or abridging the vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group.

As we allege today, SB 202 violates this federal law. The Attorney General has made clear that the Justice Department will not stand idly by in the face of unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot. Today’s filing demonstrates the commitment to this charge.

The Civil Rights Division stands ready to protect the constitutionally guaranteed voting rights of Americans in Georgia and wherever else those rights may be threatened in our country.