News, Politics

Amid Critical Backlash, Georgia Republicans Defend New Voting Laws

Protestors held almost daily demonstrations outside the Georgia capitol as new voting laws were being debated inside.
Protestors held almost daily demonstrations outside the Georgia capitol as new voting laws were being debated inside.
Credit Emil Moffatt/WABE
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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp continues to stand behind the state’s new voting laws, even as a growing number of major corporations push back against them.

At a press conference at the state capitol following Major League Baseball’s announcement that it was moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta, the Republican blamed the backlash on what he calls “disinformation”

“They ignored the facts of our new ‘Election Integrity’ law and they ignored the consequences of their decision on our local community,” said Kemp.

Kemp, who was flanked at the news conference by supporters including Republican state lawmakers, says baseball caved to pressure from President Joe Biden and his 2018 political rival Stacey Abrams, both of whom have compared the new voting laws to the Jim Crow era.

While the law does add a second mandatory Saturday of early voting, many large counties already offered that, plus Sunday voting too. The laws rolls back the availability of ballot drop boxes in larger counties and add ID requirement for vote by mail.

It also gives the Republican-controlled state legislature more control over the State Election Board, which is in charge of enforcing election law and strips power from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp spoke Saturday in defense of the state’s new voting laws, one day after baseball decided to take this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

Former president Donald Trump blasted Kemp and Raffensperger for not intervening to overturn last year’s election results, despite no evidence of widespread fraud. Kemp says even without proof of fraud the extra attention and pandemic prompted the need for the legislature to rewrite election laws.

“It changed a lot of things. We had a brand new [voting] system in Georgia, we had things like drop boxes that we never used in recent memory, therefore there were mechanical issues that needed to be fixed,” said Kemp.

The final version of Senate Bill 202 did not include earlier Republican proposals that would have ended no-excuse absentee voting and eliminated Sunday early voting.

“You gotta pass both chambers and you gotta get the governor to sign it,” said Kemp. “And through that negotiate and through talks with these companies that have now flip-flopped on the issue, we got to what’s in the final version of the bill.”

In the days after Kemp signed the bill both Coca-Cola and Delta expressed disappointment in the new laws, in addition to Georgia losing the All-Star Game.

Republican Georgia U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, who also attended the press conference, says he’s appalled by the characterization of the new Georgia voting laws. He says corporate backlash will hurt working Georgians.

“It is unacceptable for corporate CEOs and other outside groups and organizations to call the men and women of the Georgia legislature racists. That is wrong and it must end,” said Ferguson. “On top of that, and most importantly, they should apologize to our fellow Georgians for robbing them of the paychecks and livelihood that will come because of their actions.”

‘Not Deliberative Democracy’

In addition to being critical of the new laws, Democrats continue to steam over the way the bill was passed during the 40-day legislative session.

“When I say ‘push it through’ I meant they went with a ramrod,” said  State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Democrat who represents Cobb County. “This was not deliberative democracy we saw in action in the process.”

She notes that lawmakers first got a look at the 90-plus page version of Senate Bill 202 just an hour before its first committee hearing. The full version of the bill was not made available on the Georgia legislature website until the very end of the committee hearing process.

“When you have Republicans talking about how there’s misinformation and how the president of the United States is misinformed about the bill, I think they need to stop and pause and consider the fact that maybe the reason there was so much confusion and misinformation is because there was so little transparency with the legislative process,” said Anulewicz.

Anulewicz says there’s great disappointment in her district that baseball’s All-Star Game won’t be played there in July. She says the loss will be felt not only by ballpark employees but by restaurants, hotels and ride-share drivers in the area.

“My hope that by the All-Star Game, everybody would be able to take their vaccinated selves and come visit us in Cobb County and celebrate, really, this re-opening,” said Anulewicz.

Georgia Companies Face Pressure From Both Sides

As lawmakers debated the new Republican-backed voting laws inside the capitol, outside, opponents held almost daily rallies. But prominent Georgia-based companies held their strongest statements until after the legislation was signed into law.

Coca-Cola said it was disappointed with the outcome. Delta called the bill “unacceptable” and said it will “make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right…”

A demonstrator outside the Georgia capitol holds a sign, decrying an overhaul of the state’s election laws. (Emil Moffatt/WABE)

In response, the Speaker of the Georgia House, Republican David Ralston cracked open a Pepsi for the first time in years. He also had pointed words for the airline.

“You know Delta had been at the table in discussions on the bill, they were part of a dialogue that we had actually going on for several weeks and so the statement today kinda came out of the blue,” said Ralston minutes after the 40-day legislative session ended last week.

That same day, Republicans in the Georgia house made a last-minute bid to re-impose the tax on jet fuel, a break that saves Delta tens of millions per year. But the state Senate adjourned without taking it up.

For voting rights activists like Bishop Reginald Jackson of Georgia’s AME church, the most recent statements from Delta and Coca-Cola are too little too late. Outside of the World of Coca-Cola museum in downtown Atlanta, he called for a boycott against the companies and Home Depot, starting Wednesday.

“We will not give them our money, we will learn to like some other drinks, we will learn to go to some other stores, we will learn to fly on some other airlines,” Jackson told the gathered crowd. “But we’re not going to support these corporations.”

While Jackson says he’ll continue to talk with corporate leaders, he says he’s disappointed companies passed on the opportunity to further change lawmakers’ minds before the bill was passed.

“I suspect that the reason they spoke out was because of this press conference announcing the boycott. If it wasn’t for the boycott I’m not sure they would have spoken out,” said Jackson.

Not only is Bishop Jackson calling for a reversal of the new voting laws in Georgia, but for these companies to use their national clout to help pass federal legislation to protect voting rights across the U.S.

WABE’s Emma Hurt and Johnny Kauffman contributed to this report.