US President Joe Biden has likened a new voting law in the state of Georgia to racist policies of the 20th Century American South, calling it an atrocity.
The law adds restrictions to voting replacing the current system which simply requires a signature. Mr Biden said disproportionately targeted black Americans.
In a strongly-worded statement, the president called it “Jim Crow in the 21st century” and “a blatant attack on the Constitution”. He later added that the justice department was “taking a look” at it.
In last year’s presidential election, Mr Biden became the first Democratic candidate to win Georgia since 1992 – and it was high turnout among black Americans that was believed to have tipped the state in his favour.
The state was also at the heart of false claims of voter fraud during the 2020 election.
“Recount after recount and court case after court case upheld the integrity and outcome of a clearly free, fair, and secure democratic process,” Mr Biden said in the statement, released on Friday. Describing the new law, he said: “This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end.”
Jim Crow refers to the 19th and 20th Century laws that enforced racial segregation in the US South.
Among the restrictions are new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, and a limit on the use of ballot drop boxes that make it easier to vote.
The law also makes it a crime to give food and water to people queuing to vote. “Instead of celebrating the rights of all Georgians to vote or winning campaigns on the merits of their ideas, Republicans in the state instead rushed through an un-American law to deny people the right to vote,” Mr Biden’s statement continued.
“This law, like so many others being pursued by Republicans in statehouses across the country is a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience.”
Former president Donald Trump repeatedly pressured elected officials in Georgia to investigate his unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.
Then in January, Democrats took control of the US Senate when Georgia Republicans lost two run-off races. Despite those Democratic wins, the state’s government is controlled by the Republicans.
Republicans introduced the Election Integrity Act of 2021, and it passed in both chambers of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature within the space of a few hours on Thursday.
It makes Georgia the first presidential battleground state and the second overall to pass laws that restrict ballot access in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
Earlier on Friday, a Democratic state lawmaker was arrested and charged while protesting against the bill. Park Cannon was handcuffed and removed from the state capitol for banging on Governor Brian Kemp’s office door as he signed the bill.
According to her arrest warrant, Ms Cannon “knowingly and intentionally” kept knocking on the door despite repeated warnings, and stomped on her apprehending officer’s foot with her heels.
In a statement on Facebook, the lawmaker said she “will not stand by while our voting rights are threatened” and pledged to “continue this fight”. Ms Cannon is among those who have slammed the measures in Georgia as “Jim Crow in new clothes”.
Republicans say the new voting laws are “common sense”. Republicans say this will instil greater confidence in election integrity
“Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible and fair,” Governor Kemp told reporters while signing the bill.
Democrats say it will now be harder for working class people – who may not have an ID – to cast a ballot.
Several demonstrators rallied at the state capitol as he signed the new legislation in a closed-door session.