Gov. Kemp defends Georgia election bill criticized as ‘Jim Crow in 21st century’

In an effort to encourage Georgians outside the metro Atlanta area to get vaccines, Gov. Brian Kemp traveled to Waycross on Friday afternoon to tour the mass vaccination site at the Waycross Mall and then receive his COVID-19 vaccine.

One day after signing Georgia’s controversial election reform bill, Gov. Brian Kemp pushed back at criticism from Democrats and voting-rights advocates.

“It wasn’t a voting rights bill. It’s an election security bill that increases early voting opportunities on the weekend here in Georgia,” Kemp said Friday during a visit to South Georgia.

While Senate Bill 202 does guarantee at least one Saturday of early voting in future elections, the sweeping Republican-sponsored overhaul of state election law requires a photo identification to vote absentee by mail. It also shortens how long voters have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be used. The new law also gives the state legislative more control over how elections are run, meaning less control by local officials.

Republicans said Georgia needed to restore the confidence of voters who believed President Donald Trump’s unproven claims of widespread fraud.

Buddy Carter, a former Georgia legislator as well as U.S. Representative for Southeast Georgia, told News4Jax it was time for a change.

“We did need to see electoral reform in Georgia, especially as a result of what happened last year when I mentioned that the Secretary of State entered into the settlement agreement with the Democratic Party, because, again, it’s up to the legislature, not the executive branch to make these rules and make sure this process is run the way that they see fit to run it,” Carter said. “But it’s not as if we’re going to have people falling out in line because they’re dehydrated, they’ll still be able to have self-serve water there and the poll workers will just be able to help them.”

Democrats say the law is a power grab by Republicans who are threatened by Joe Biden’s presidential victory in Georgia in November and the twin Democratic victories of U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff in January.

“Georgians turned out in record-breaking numbers because they could access the ballot,” Democratic Rep. Rhonda Burnough said. “Lies upon lies were told about our elections in response, and now this bill is before us built on those same lies.”

“This is Jim Crow in the 21st century,” is how President Joe Biden addressed what was going on in Georgia.

Biden’s response came Friday as an attorney for a Georgia lawmaker charged with two felonies after knocking on the door to the governor’s private office said authorities overreached in the case. The arrest unfolded while the governor spoke on live television about the overhaul of state elections.

State police arrested state Rep. Park Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat, on Thursday after she said she wanted to see Republican Gov. Brian Kemp sign the law.

Cannon was charged with obstruction of law enforcement and disruption of the General Assembly. She was released from jail late Thursday.

A state police spokesman said Cannon knocked on the door to the public lobby of the governor’s office, and then shifted to knocking on a door to a private area.

“She was advised that she was disturbing what was going on inside and if she did not stop, she would be placed under arrest,” Lt. W. Mark Riley wrote in a statement.

“This was a law enforcement overreach on all the charges, and my hope is that after examining the file, the district attorney will dismiss the charges,’' Cannon’s lawyer, Gerald Griggs, said Friday. Griggs said he had already spoken to Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

A crowd of Cannon supporters including U.S. Sen Raphael Warnock gathered Thursday outside the Fulton County jail awaiting Cannon’s release.

“We will not live in fear, and we will not be controlled,” Cannon wrote on social media after being released. “We have a right to our future and a right to our freedom.”

Kemp talked about her arrest Friday.

“It’s unfortunate a sitting state representative would actually stomp and kick a Georgia State Patrol officer,” Kemp said.

State Rep. James Burchett, a Waycross Republican who represents District 176, joined Kemp in urging people to read the new law before criticizing it. He particularly defended the provision that bans private groups from providing water or food to people in line to vote.

“We don’t want people to be able to have any type of persuasion on folks who are voting. That’s the whole protection of the people in line,” Burchett said.

Georgia Secretary of State Ben Raffensperger, who was credited for standing up to pressure from then-President Trump to “find 11,780 votes,” enough to allow Trump to win the state, defended the changes to the state’s election law.

“The cries of ‘voter suppression’ from those on the left ring as hollow as the continuously debunked claims of ‘mass voter fraud’ in Georgia’s 2020 election,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “We don’t have systemic voter suppression, and we don’t have mass voter fraud. What we have is systemic lies for political gain that have led to a loss of public confidence in our elections.”

Trump also weighed in on Friday, congratulating the Georgia Legislature for changing the state’s voting rules.

“They learned from the travesty of the 2020 Presidential Election, which can never be allowed to happen again,” Trump said in a statement. “Too bad these changes could not have been done sooner!”

The Republican National Convention called for similar election reform laws in Florida, such as allowing the removal of local election officials and letting the state-run it rather than local elected officials.

Several organizations have already filed lawsuits, challenging parts of the new bill.

About the Authors:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.