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Primaries underway as groups fight stricter voting laws

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Posted at 11:50 AM, Jun 03, 2022

ATLANTA, Ga. — Tucked into an event space, members of the New Georgia Project are monitoring the voter experience of the 2022 primary election after voting, they say, is becoming increasingly harder to do.

The nonpartisan group's goal is to get more people from historically marginalized groups registered to vote and advocate for issues most important to them. One of those issues has recently been new voting laws that were put into place in the state last year, via SB 202.

"New laws that attack your voting rights, that limit your voting options, are harmful particularly to the Black community," said Aklima Khondoker, the chief legal officer for the New Georgia Project.

Georgia is one of at least 19 states that, after false claims of widespread voter fraud after the 2020 election, have enacted stricter voter laws, according to the Brennan Center.

Some of these laws do things like limit early voting sites, decrease the number of drop boxes, require identification on mail-in ballots and give states more control over county elections.

Proponents believe these have been enacted in good faith, with Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia saying, "This bill expands voting access, streamlines vote-counting procedures, and ensures election integrity."

However, opponents of the laws say they unfairly make it harder to cast a ballot. Why we're seeing this barrage of laws, they say, is because of something that happened in 2013. That's when a Supreme Court decision took away some federal checks on changes to voter laws first made in the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

"This issue of voter suppression and what it looks like. It takes a different shape, but it's the same old story that is sewn into the fabric of our democracy," said Khondoker.

She said right after the Supreme Court decision, more than 200 polling places in the state closed.

"We also had things that we saw in Georgia and other states like voter ID restrictions that made it more difficult for people to access the ballot, shortening things like your absentee ballot requests," she said.

Gena Gunn McClendon is a researcher at Washington University who studies voter access and engagement.

"We were volunteering and noticing how in Black communities, people stood in line for long periods of time compared to other communities," she said.

She says laws that create more barriers to voting, including having to have a certain photo ID to vote or having to request an absentee ballot in person, create voter "subversion" or so much distrust in the system that it discourages people from voting and disproportionately impact communities of color.

"You might have an older person who was born in Mississippi that doesn't have an ID, so then in order to get an ID, they have to find somebody to prove that they were born in that particular state at a particular time. But how are you going to do that if you're 80 years old and everybody you knew has died," she said.

While those who back these laws say they encourage more faith in the system, McClendon says it causes a chilling effect among Black voters.

"The whole idea is to keep people afraid and just say, 'Forget it, I'm not going to go vote because it's not going to matter,'" she said.

The Brennan Center reports that there are 76 active lawsuits in 21 states against stricter voting laws, including The New Georgia Project's lawsuit against SB 202.

"If you're going to say that there's an issue with the integrity of our elections here in Georgia, show us, prove it. Where's your disparate impact analysis? Where is your thoughtful guidance about how this is going to impact communities of color," said Khondoker.

There's a lot of mistrust in the election system on both sides of the political spectrum and many folks say they don't know what or who to believe anymore. What opponents of these laws hope others understand is how they impact people who may be different from them.

"We want people to have faith in our democracy. It's what keeps America going. It's what makes our country what it is. And if you have our leaders who are constantly dumping on our system, constantly undermining what our systems should be, then you're going to have less people participate. We won't let that happen," said Khondoker.