Election integrity issues have become a major concern to the public and the legal profession “[d]ue to foreign interference in the election process, the rapid spread of disinformation, and litigation challenging changes to election procedures made by many states in response to the coronavirus pandemic.” The 2020 pandemic provided Americans with an unforgettable lesson on the importance of election officials to our country’s democracy. The Covid-19 pandemic opened a lively debate about expanding special voting arrangements. These arrangements, i.e., early voting, postal voting, proxy voting, etc., allowed voters to exercise their right to vote by alternative means other than casting a ballot in person at their respective polling station on election day. However, these modifications were temporary in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Now fast forward to the present, in the wake of a flood of disinformation about the election process, state legislatures have taken steps to strip election officials of the power to run and certify elections, centralizing power in their own hands over processes “intended to be free of partisan or political interference.” These dominating state legislatures and politicians are using “election integrity” as a way to rationalize their efforts to further suppress and restrict voters.
II. Georgia Senate Bill 202
The Election Integrity Act of 2021, originally known as the Georgia Senate Bill 202 (Senate Bill 202), is a law in Georgia that further restricts the elections process in the state. The 98-page Bill mandates voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, expands in-person early voting, and alters the structure of the State Elections Board to bolster the legislature’s power and give the Board more authority to discipline local officials. In addition, the Bill significantly shortened the window in which voters could request mail-in ballots, which Georgia voters used in record numbers in 2020 amid the pandemic. This legislation received widespread criticism from Democrats and voting rights groups. In the June 2020 presidential and congressional primaries and during early voting for the November presidential election, volunteers with groups like Black Voters Matter brought water and pizza to voters waiting in long lines. Senate Bill 202 makes it a crime for outside groups to give food or water to voters waiting in line in order to solicit votes. Section 33 of the Bill states:
No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition, nor shall any person, other than election officials discharging their duties, establish or set up any tables or booths on any day in which ballots are being cast.
With highly competitive midterm elections approaching in Georgia, voting rights activists claim Senate Bill 202 is a “thinly veiled effort to make it harder for non-white voters to cast a ballot.” In a politically divided and racially diverse state such as Georgia, voter turnout is crucial. Even if a small number of voters are disenfranchised, it could make a huge difference in the outcome of elections.
III. Racial Backlash
Some have argued that this Bill is nothing more than a game of partisan politics, with Republicans seeking electoral majorities for their party by hindering the voting power of non-whites. Senate Bill 202 had and will continue to have a significant impact on voters of color—there is speculation that it was not “an accident or unknown to legislators that these communities would ultimately be affected.” These tactics are traditionally the type of restrictions intended to impact voters of color. President Joe Biden won Georgia two years ago, becoming the first Democratic presidential nominee to break through the GOP stronghold since former President Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992. This contributed to what the Brennan Center for Justice calls “racial backlash;” a theory describing how white Americans respond to a perceived erosion of power and status by undermining the political opportunities of minorities. Racially diverse states controlled by Republicans are far more likely to introduce and pass restrictive provisions than very white homogenous states under Republican control. The effects of Senate Bill 202 were displayed in Georgia’s 2022 primary, where “the turnout gap between white and Black voters was wider than any other election in the past decade.” The lack of turnout caused several observers to question whether the law had suppressed voter turnout and deterred Georgians from casting their votes. However, the real test for these restrictions will likely come in future elections.
IV. Potential Problems and the Communities’ Response
Senate Bill 202 allows any Georgia voter to challenge an unlimited number of other voters in their county. This provision led to consequences after the state’s May 24, 2022 primary election and foreshadows potential problems for future elections. Under Senate Bill 202, counties are required to look into the voter challenges, forcing the counties to reallocate resources that would otherwise go towards preparing for the election. According to the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group that is tracking the impact of the new law, “about 64,000 challenges were filed statewide—with about 37,000 of them in [the] Atlanta area alone—and at least 1,800 mostly Black or Democratic voters’ names already have been removed from [Georgia’s] voter rolls.” Zach Manifold, the election supervisor in Gwinnett County, said in an interview that “[sorting through voter challenges] is not [going to] be a fast process. It’s [going to] take [the County] some time. . . [i]t definitely pulls resources from other things that were definitely starting to ramp up for the upcoming elections.” Nevertheless, voting organizations such as the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and Fair Fight have sought ways to engage and encourage poll workers and election boards across the state to address capacity and education on a larger scale. These efforts will continue in hopes of calling attention to the many changes prompted by the Georgia Senate Bill 202 and aiding the minority voters most impacted by the law.
Fifty-six years ago, on March 25, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 from the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. Georgia’s new law has abandoned their native son by codifying mass disenfranchisement and intimidation, while further suppressing the voting process. Senate Bill 202 attacks absentee voting, criminalizes Georgians who give a drink of water to their neighbors, allows the State to takeover county elections, and retaliates against the elected Secretary of State by replacing him with a State Board of Elections Chair chosen by the legislature and not by voters. This bill was passed to tamp down Black political empowerment. The state takeover of Georgia’s local board or elections will undermine Black political participation and power—potentially putting Black communities, and democracy, in peril. Voter suppression kills democracy—therefore the fight must continue against state legislatures and politicians using “election integrity” as a way to rationalize their efforts to further suppress and restrict voters.
*Ryan Ricketts is a second-year day student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, where he is a Staff Editor for Law Review and a member of the Royal Graham Shannonhouse III Honor Society. Additionally, Ryan serves as a Law Scholar for Professor Ziaja’s Property class. During summer 2022, Ryan was a summer associate at Ballard Spahr LLP and looks forward to returning to the firm in summer 2023. He hopes to continue working in private practice after graduation.
 Election Integrity and Civic Education, Am. Bar Ass’n (June 1, 2022), https://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/governmental_legislative_work/priorities_policy/election-integrity-and-civic-education-/.
 Election Integrity, Brennan Ctr. Just., https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/defend-our-elections/election-integrity (last visited Jan. 3, 2023).
 Erik Asplund, et al., Elections and Covid-19: How special voting arrangements were expanded in 2020, IDEA Feb. 25, 2021), https://www.idea.int/news-media/news/elections-and-covid-19-how-special-voting-arrangements-were-expanded-2020.
 “Election Integrity” Act is Jim Crow 2.0 Voter Suppression, We Are Democracy NC, https://democracync.org/research/election-integrity-act-is-jim-crow-era-voter-suppression/ (last visited Jan. 3, 2023).
 Carlisa N. Johnson, The ‘All-Out’ Effort to Overcome Georgia’s New Restrictive Voting Bill, Guardian (Oct. 2, 2022), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/02/sb202-georgia-voting-rights-midterm-elections.
 Grace Panetta, Georgia’s New Controversial Voting Law Bans Volunteers, Bus. Insider (Mar. 26, 2021), https://www.businessinsider.com/ga-voting-law-bans-volunteers-from-delivering-food-water-to-voters-2021-3.
 Sam Levine, ‘Death by a Thousand Cuts’: Georgia’s New Voting Restrictions, Guardian (Oct. 5, 2022), https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/oct/05/georgia-voter-suppression-registration-challenges.
 Beth Daley, Georgia’s GOP Overhauled the State’s Election Laws in 2021, Conversation (Oct. 22, 2022), https://theconversation.com/georgias-gop-overhauled-the-states-election-laws-in-2021-and-critics-argue-the-target-was-black-voter-turnout-not-election-fraud-192000.
 Levine, supra note 7.
 Johnson, supra note 5.
 Gregory Krieg, Early Voting Begins in Georgia with Slate of Key Races on the Ballot, CNN Politics (Oct. 17, 2022), https://www.cnn.com/2022/10/17/politics/georgia-early-voting-senate-house-governor/index.html.
 Sara Loving, How Voter Suppression Legislation Is Tied to Race, Brennan Ctr. Just. (Oct. 3, 2022), https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/how-voter-suppression-legislation-tied-race.
 Loving, supra note 18.
 Alex Samuels, Why Georgia’s Turnout Numbers Don’t Tell Us Enough, Five Thirty Eight (June 6, 2022), https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/why-high-turnout-in-georgia-doesnt-mean-voting-restrictions-havent-had-an-effect/.
 Daley, supra note 13.
 Levine, supra note 7.
 Daley, supra note 13.
 Levine, supra note 7.
 Johnson, supra note 5.
 Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law (SB 202), ACLU Georgia, https://acluga.org/georgias-anti-voter-law/ (last visited Jan. 9, 2023).
 Domingo Morel, As Georgia’s new law shows, The Washington Post (Apr. 1, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/04/01/georgias-new-law-shows-when-black-people-gain-local-power-states-strip-that-power-away/.
 “Election Integrity” Act is Jim Crow 2.0 Voter Suppression, supra note 4.