ATLANTA (AP) — Rhonda Briggins spent much of Election Day in 2020 at an Atlanta polling station handing out water and snacks to encourage voters to queue for hours to cast their votes, something her historic black sorority has been doing in Georgia for decades.
This election, Briggins and some of her thousands of sororities are trading that role for a potentially more controversial one: making sure voters aren’t deprived of their voting rights by a slew of new voting restrictions passed by the Republican-led legislature. They include a ban on giving food and drink to waiting voters.
The law, which a federal judge allowed going through this election cycle was too confusing for the sorority to take a chance on doing its traditional “line relief,” said Briggins, chair of the Delta Sigma Theta Strategic Partnerships Task Force and a member of the Decatur alumnae chapter of the sorority.
“The line between criminalizing and being helpful is too narrow,” she said. “We don’t want to get that far.”
Georgia is one of several states where voters will face new hurdles in voting in the November election under laws passed by Republican-led lawmakers after the election of former President Donald Trump. false claims that voter fraud cost him reelection in 2020. The restrictions have meant that groups that help voters to refocus avoid encountering new barriers.
Anticipating confusion and conflict at the polls, they are doubling their efforts to register and educate voters.
Since 2021, lawmakers in 21 states have passed at least 42 restrictive laws, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice. At least 33 of those are in effect for this year’s midterms. Some include multiple changes, such as legislative packages in Georgia and Texas. Others, such as in Arizona, are less extensive or, in some cases, not yet applicable.
The 98-page bill in Georgia included dozens of changes to the state’s voting law. These include reducing the time to apply for ballot papers, reversing the pandemic-driven expansion of ballot boxes and reducing early second-round voting.
The state had argued that the ban on water and refreshment was necessary to protect against the possibility of illegal campaigning or vote-buying. State attorneys also argued that it was too close to the upcoming election to make any changes.
“Again, we’re not telling anyone who to vote for,” Briggins said of the help the sorority has provided in previous years. “We’re offering water because you’ve been in line for eight hours.”
Faith Works, a group organized by black church leaders in response to the Georgian law, provides grants to help more than 1,000 churches mobilize voters. It also aims to deploy 200 chaplains across the state to ease any tensions at polling stations.
Bishop Reginald Jackson, who presides over 500 African Methodist Episcopal churches in Georgia and helped set up the group, rejected the new law as an attempt to suppress black voters after first helping Democrats win the presidential election two years ago. in Georgia since 1992.
“It is designed and intended as a punishment for blacks for having started voting in such large numbers in 2020,” he said.
Republicans have pushed back criticism that their new law restricts voting, noting that it also expands early voting on weekends.
Voting rights organizations in Georgia and elsewhere are adapting to the changing landscape. In Arizona, Mi Familia Vota focuses on voter education, including letting people know that a law passed this year requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote in federal elections is not in effect this cycle.
That provision is expected to have a lot of impact on Latino voters, in part because part of the law requires local election officials to notify prosecutors if a potential voter fails to provide proof of citizenship and state election officials cannot find evidence in various government databases.
“It’s part of a continuation to make it harder for people to vote,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. His group joined the US Department of Justice when filing a lawsuit against the law.
Texas Secretary of State John Scott said one county largely avoided rejections by including a leaflet with instructions on how to complete the mailed ballot and return envelope. He said the practice has since been introduced to every province.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, an impartial group challenging the new law, spent much of a recent lawyer training session on the law’s identification requirement and the bigger problems the law creates for removing problematic pollsters.
Claude Cummings Jr., first vice president of the NAACP branch in Houston, said the law’s identification requirement is especially tough on older black voters.
“There’s only one way to fix this — educate, educate, educate,” Cummings said. It’s a theme that has been picked up by other groups, such as MOVE Texas, which held more than 60 events across the state on voter registration day, all aimed at younger, potential voters.
Georgia Senate Bill 202 — signed last year by Republican administration Brian Kemp — was one of the first ballot measures passed after Trump’s defeat. Not only does the law make it a felony to hand out food or drink to a voter who is standing in line, but it limits the ability for voters to cast a preliminary vote if they go to the wrong district. It also allows any Georgian voter to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of other voters within the same province.
Election offices are already done challenges to the eligibility of thousands of voters in metro Atlanta.
The New Georgia Project, a group founded by Democratic governor candidate Stacey Abrams, has trained legal professionals to make baseless attempts to disqualify voters, sue them for handing out water or falsely deny them the right to a preliminary vote. fight, said Aklima Khondoker, the group’s head of legal affairs.
Khondoker said the group will be “hyper-vigilant on issues related to election administration, disenfranchisement, criminalization of both voters and everyday good volunteer activities.”
The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, another group seeking to improve access to the polls, helped organize information sessions about the new law in Savannah, Macon, Augusta and other cities this summer. The group bought scanners so people could copy bank statements or other forms to apply for a ballot if they didn’t have a driver’s license or state-issued identification card, said Helen Butler, the group’s executive director. SB202 replaced signature verification for absentee ballots with an identification requirement.
The community organization Georgia STAND-UP will host block parties near some polling stations so that people can get water and food before lining up to vote, CEO Deborah Scott said. The group plans to use tape measures to ensure the events are located more than 46 meters from the district to comply with the new law.
Rev. Timothy McDonald, III, senior pastor of Atlanta’s First Iconium Baptist Church and another Faith Works leader, recently led a brainstorming session discussing how to address voter challenges. McDonald urged groups in the room to disclose a voter protection hotline and said voters should bring a utility bill in addition to their identification to verify their address.
“There will be some antics that day,” he warned.
Fields reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.
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