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Georgia Republicans pass sweeping voting restrictions

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp on Thursday signed into law a sweeping Republican-sponsored overhaul of state elections that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and gives the legislature greater control over how elections are run.

Among other things, the law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Democrats and voting rights groups say the law will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. It is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states around the nation after former President Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 election defeat.

President Joe Biden called such GOP efforts "un-American" and "sick" during a news conference Thursday. And a group of voter mobilization groups filed a lawsuit late Thursday in federal court in Atlanta challenging the new law.

The Republican changes to voting law in Georgia follows record-breaking turnout that led to Democratic victories in the presidential contest and two U.S. Senate runoffs in the once reliably red state.

"After the November election last year, I knew, like so many of you, that significant reforms to our state elections were needed," said Kemp, who drew Trump's ire after certifying Biden's victory in Georgia.

The bill, SB 202, passed the state House 100-75 earlier Thursday, then the state Senate quickly agreed to House changes by a vote of 34-20. Republicans in the legislature were in support, while Democrats were opposed.

Georgia adopts new voting restrictions 09:19

President Biden on Friday called the Georgia legislation "outrageous" and "an atrocity," and urged Congress to move quickly to bolster voting rights across the nation in response.

"It's an atrocity," Biden told reporters. "They passed a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote. You don't need anything else to know this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting."

Gerogia's Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler called the efforts by Republicans "voter suppression tactics."

"We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we've seen since the Jim Crow era," Butler said.

Kemp delivered remarks on the bill during a livestream Thursday evening and was interrupted by Georgia State Representative Park Cannon, according to CBS affiliate WGCL-TV. Cannon, who was among a group of protesters, knocked on Kemp's door and was subsequently arrested by police. She has been charged with felony obstruction of law enforcement and preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members, a misdemeanor. She was later released.

Conservative groups hailed the legislation's passage, while liberals voiced their concern. 

"While some on the Left attempted to suppress Georgian voters by pushing policies that undermine trust in the state's elections, Gov. Kemp and Georgia legislators fought to restore voter trust and confidence," said the conservative Heritage Action. "And today, they succeeded — this is a massive victory for every single Georgian voter and for our country. ... Thanks to them, Georgia is now leading the nation in free, fair, and safe elections — the rest of the nation should follow."

The Southern Poverty Law Center said Georgia Republican leaders were "cowering to extremists" with the legislation. 

"Thousands of voters have made it clear that the types of provisions in SB 202 are unacceptable and will disproportionately harm historically disenfranchised communities, young voters, and voters with disabilities," said Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director for the SPLC Action Fund. "The speed and magnitude of today's shift in election policy in Georgia is unprecedented and unlike any other major policy shift in the state's recent history."

President Biden, at his news conference, said he did not believe most Republican voters supported such efforts. "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," Mr. Biden said.

He also expressed openness to amending the filibuster rule in the Senate on certain issues, including voting rights. 

"Filibusters broke down, and we were able to break the filibuster, get a quorum, and vote. So I strongly support moving in that direction, in addition to having an open mind about dealing with certain things that are — are just elemental to the functioning of our democracy, like the right to vote — like the basic right to vote. We've amended the filibuster in the past," he said. 

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