Georgia’s Infamous Voter Suppression Law Heads to Trial for the First Time

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Monday, one of the nation’s most infamous voter suppression laws will go to trial for the first time. The trial, which begins on April 15 in a federal court in Georgia, will determine if Georgia’s new restrictions on absentee ballot applications — which are just one sliver of the barriers to voting in the infamous law— will stand. 

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Georgia Republicans passed Senate Bill 202, one of the most restrictive voter suppression bills in the country, placing numerous restrictions on mail-in voting, changing early voting and barring individuals and groups from giving out food or drinks to voters waiting in line to vote. This last provision — also known as a linewarming ban — is so controversial that it inspired the plotline of Larry David’s final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. 

But the HBO show isn’t the only cultural commentary on Georgia’s law. In the wake of its passage in 2021, Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game out of the state, Delta Airlines — headquartered in Georgia — condemned the bill, as did Patagonia and over 70 Black business executives.

Civil rights groups had similar concerns and took those all the way to court. In April 2021, VoteAmerica, Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information brought a lawsuit challenging the law’s absentee ballot application provisions. The groups assert that the law’s restrictions on absentee ballot applications can harm voting organizations on the ground attempting to do important get-out-the-vote work such as providing voters with resources and information to help with filling out absentee ballot applications. 

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs take particular issue with the restriction on sending voters absentee ballot applications that are already filled out (the prefilling provision) and the provision that prohibits groups from sending absentee ballot applications to voters who have already already requested, received or voted an absentee ballots (the anti-duplication provision).  

These prohibitions — including monetary fines — curtail the work that organizations such as Voter Participation Center and Center for Voter Information do providing voters with absentee ballot application resources, as the complaint explains: 

These new requirements are not only costly and burdensome on nonprofit organizations who work to encourage political participation and facilitate access to absentee voting for Georgians—in some cases they are impossible to comply with or would present such prohibitively expensive financial burdens that some groups, like Plaintiffs…may have no choice but to cease their operations in Georgia altogether.

In September of last year, a federal judge determined that the provisions are not overbroad nor do they violate the plaintiffs’ freedom of association. Now, it will be up to the same judge to determine if the absentee ballot application provisions violate the plaintiffs’ right to free speech under the First Amendment. The trial is expected to last five days. 

This lawsuit is one of eight active lawsuits challenging S.B. 202. One lawsuit brought by the Coalition for Good Governance challenges different provisions. Six other consolidated lawsuits challenge different provisions of the law including the laws prohibition on linewarming, drop boxes and more.

Last year, a federal judge temporarily blocked a provision of S.B. 202 that required election officials to reject a voter’s absentee ballot if the birth date written on an outer ballot envelope did not match the voter’s registration record. Part of the line-warming provision that imposed criminal penalties on individuals who handed out food and water to voters even if they were more than 150 feet from a polling place, is also temporarily blocked.  

Learn more about the case here.

Learn more about the other cases challenging S.B. 202 here.