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Justice Department announces challenge to Georgia's restrictive voting law

It's the first major federal enforcement action around Republican-led laws that have put limits on voting following former President Donald Trump’s election loss.

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Friday that it is suing the state of Georgia over its recently enacted voting restrictions.

"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 on account of their race or color in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said.

The move is the first major federal enforcement action around the spate of Republican-led laws that have imposed limits on voting in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s election loss.

The Justice Department is asking the court to strike down parts of the law and require federal observers in Georgia for future elections. The suit also asks the court to require future preclearance for changes to voting laws in Georgia.

The Republican-controlled state government in Georgia imposed a set sweeping new restrictions earlier this year, many of them fueled by Trump's false claims that the 2020 election had been subject to rampant fraud.

Republicans have argued that the rules were needed to prevent fraud. Democrats have countered that the new laws are designed to suppress turnout, particularly among constituencies that historically vote for their candidates.

The lawsuit argues there was evidence that in passing the voting bill, known as S.B. 202, Georgia officials were intentionally targeting Black voters.

"Georgia enacted S.B. 202 with knowledge of the disproportionate effect that numerous provisions, both singly and together, would have on Black voters’ ability to participate in the political process on an equal basis with white voters," the lawsuit states.

The Justice Department also argues that there is no justification that the law is needed to curb fraud.

"The lack of evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election cycle, and numerous statements from the Secretary of State’s Office debunking voter fraud claims, tend to undermine the justifications proffered by proponents of S.B. 202, providing evidence that the proffered rationales for the bill’s provisions are tenuous," the lawsuit states.

The suit argues that limits on absentee ballots will disproportionately affect Black voters, pointing to evidence of when and where they are more likely to utilize mail-in voting.

"By reducing access to absentee voting at each step of the process — curtailing access to absentee ballot applications, imposing an early deadline and new identification requirement for requesting absentee ballots, and limiting access to drop boxes for timely return of completed ballots —S.B. 202 will push more Black voters to in-person voting, where they will be more likely than white voters to confront long lines, and where S.B. 202 imposes additional impediments to casting a ballot by banning the distribution of food and water to voters waiting in long lines and prohibiting the counting of most out-of-precinct provisional ballots," the suit states.

Democrats in Congress have cited overturning state laws like the one in Georgia as a top priority, arguing it is necessary to protect democracy.

In the House, Democrats earlier this year passed a sweeping voting bill on a party-line vote that would reverse the Georgia law as well as enact other changes to national election standards and campaign finance rules. The bill was blocked in the Senate earlier this week, when all of the chamber's Republicans voted to filibuster the measure.

Trump responded to the announcement with a statement calling on Georgia voters to sue their state over the results of the election and repeating his unsubstantiated claims of fraud.