By Joseph Ax
March 26 (Reuters) - A coalition of civil rights groups has filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia's sweeping new voting restrictions, arguing that the Republican-backed law is intended to make it harder for people – particularly Black voters – to cast ballots.
Among other limits, the law imposed stricter identification requirements, limited drop boxes, gave lawmakers the power to take over local elections and shortened the early voting period for all runoff elections. It also makes it a misdemeanor for people to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.
The legislation has alarmed Democrats, who just months ago celebrated historic wins in the presidential election and two Senate campaigns in Georgia that helped deliver the White House and U.S. Senate control to their party in Washington.
The complaint was filed in Atlanta federal court just hours after the legislation became law on Thursday by the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise, Inc. Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who spearheaded the party's election legal efforts last year, is representing the groups.
"These provisions lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting," the lawsuit said.
"Instead, they represent a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters."
Other Republican-controlled state legislatures are pursuing voting restrictions in key battleground states, including Florida and Arizona, after former President Donald Trump repeatedly blamed his loss to President Joe Biden on massive voter fraud without evidence.
Republicans have defended the legislation as necessary to make "our elections fair and secure," as Georgia Governor Brian Kemp put it when signing the bill into law on Thursday.
Democrats and voting rights advocates decried the restrictions, which passed the legislature solely with Republican support, as a revival of racially discriminatory voting laws that will harm voters in minority communities, which are already plagued by long lines and inadequate election infrastructure.
Stacey Abrams, the prominent voting rights advocate and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, called the law "Jim Crow in a suit" on Twitter, referring to the era of racist laws that dominated the U.S. South for decades. At a news conference in Washington on Thursday, Biden called the push for new voting limits across the country "un-American."
As he contested his national loss to Biden, Trump focused much of his energy in Georgia. At one point, he personally called the state's Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, and urged him to "find" votes Trump claimed had gone missing.
That phone call is part of a criminal investigation by state prosecutors into whether Trump broke election laws by pressuring officials to alter the results.
Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win Georgia since 1992. (Reporting by Joseph Ax Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alistair Bell)
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