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tv   Attorney General Announces Lawsuit on Georgia Voting Law  CSPAN  July 2, 2021 11:09am-11:30am EDT

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has invested billions in building up -- infrastructure, upgrading technology and empowering opportunity in communities big and small. charter is connecting us. >> charter communication support c-span as a public service along with these other television providers, giving you a front row seat to democracy. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2021] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] >> next, attorney general merrick garland and assistant attorney hold a news conference on voting rights, this is about 25 minutes. inutes. mr. garland: good morning. i'm pleased to be joined by lisa monaco, assistant attorney
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general gupta and kristen clarke. i want to express my condolences for community in surfside, florida. i know how difficult it is for the families who were lost and those who are waiting to hear and i express great gratitude for the first responders and for the others who are assisting in the ongoing rescue operations. i know that the federal government is providing assistance to the state and local governments and we stand ready as things develop to provide more assistance if it is required. the rights of all eligible citizens to vote are the central pillars of our democracy. they are the rights from which all other rights ultimately flow. two weeks ago i spoke about our country's history of expanding the right to vote. i noted that our progress on protecting voting rights,
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especially for black americans and people of color, has never been steady. moments of voting rights expansion have often been met with counterefforts to curb the franchise. among other things i expressed concerns about the dramatic actions that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a vote that counts. i explained that the justice department is rededicating its resources to enforcing federal law and to protecting the franchise for all eligible voters. and i promise that we are strut nicing new laws that seek to curb voter access and that where we see violations of federal law we will act. in keeping that promise, today the department of justice is suing the state of georgia. our complaint ledges that recently changes to georgia's election laws were enacted with a purpose of denying or
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abridging the right of black georgians to vote on account of their race or color in violation of section 2 of the voting rights act. several studies show that georgia experienced record voter turnout and participation rates in the 2020 election cycle. approximately 2/3 of eligible voters in the state cast a ballot in the november election, just over the national average. this is cause for celebration. but then in march of 2021, georgia's legislature passed s.v. 202. many of that law's provisions make it harder for people to vote. the complaint aledges that the state enacted those restrictions with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color. in a few moments, assistant attorney general clarke will talk in more detail about this
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case. the united states vs. georgia. i want to thank the staff of the civil rights division's voting section for their hard work on this matter and for their everyday efforts to protect americans' voting rights. the critical nature of their work is the reason we are doubling the section's enforcement staff. this law enforcement is the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote, that all lawful votes are counted, and that every voter has access to accurate information. the civil rights division continues to analyze our state laws that have been passed and we are following the progress of legislative proposals under consideration in additional states. where we believe the civil rights of americans have been violated we will not hesitate to act. we will use all existing
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provisions of the voting rights act, the national voter registration act, the help america vote act, the americans with disabilities act, and the uniformed and overseas citizens absentee voting act to ensure that we protect every qualified american seeking to participate in our democracy. under the supervision of the associate attorney general, the civil rights division is also taking proactive measures to help states understand federal law and best practices. we are in the process of developing guidance to help ensure that postelection audits comply with federal law, and we are working in guidance with respect to early voting and voting by mail. and because the upcoming redistricting cycle may be the first since 1960 to proceed without the key preclearance provision of the voting rights act, we will publish new guidance to make clear the voting protections that apply to
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all jurisdictions as they redraw their electoral maps. these include maps used for congressional districts, state legislatures, county commissions, city councils, and more. pursuant to president biden's executive order, we are also working to ensure access to voter registration for eligible individuals in federal custody and will assist other federal agencies in expanding voter registration opportunities as permitted by law. finally, as i noted two weeks ago, we are seeing a dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers. to address this effort to undermine our electoral process, today the deputy attorney general will issue a directive to all federal prosecutors and
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the f.b.i., which will highlight the prevalence of these threats and instruct them to prioritize investigating these threats. today, we will also launch a task force, including personnel from the criminal division of the civil -- criminal division, the civil rights division and the f.b.i. to focus on these threats. we will promptly prosecute any violations of federal law. we are using every method at our disposal in our enforcement efforts, but that is not enough. we urge congress to act to provide the department with important authorities it needs to protect the voting rights of every american. eight years ago today, the supreme court issued the decision in selby county vs. holder. prior to that decision, the justice department had an invaluable tool it could use to protect voters from
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discrimination, section 5 of the voting rights act. under that section, any change with respect to voting in a covered jurisdiction could not be enforced unless the jurisdiction first proved to the justice department or to the united states district court for the district of columbia that the proposed change did not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. using that tool, it -- from being implemented across georgia because they failed the statutory test. if georgia had still been covered by section 5, it is likely that s.b. 202 would never have taken effect. we urge congress to restore this invaluable tool. i will now turn the podium over
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to kristen clarke, who will tell you more about our filing in the united states vs. georgia. ms. clarke: thank you, attorney general garland. two weeks ago, you made clear that the department will spare no effort to protect voting rights in this country. as you and i have discussed on many occasions, the civil rights division stands on the front lines of this work. while it is the honor of a lifetime to lead the division charged with upholding the nation's civil rights laws, it is also a great responsibility. today, that responsibility requires that i announce the division has found it necessary to file suit against the state of georgia. the civil rights division did not arrive at this decision lightly. it's our job to follow the facts and the law, and in this case, our careful assessment of the facts and the law demonstrates
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that georgia's recent voting rights law violates section 2 of the voting rights act. i want to thank the voting section for their tremendous efforts on this complaint and everything that they do. and i want to express my appreciation to the acting u.s. attorney and staff of the northern district of georgia for their partnership and support. our complaint today alleges that several provisions of s.b. 202 were passed with a discriminatory purpose in violation of the voting rights act. the georgia legislature passed s.b. 202 through a rushed process that departed from normal practice and procedure. the version of the bill that passed the state senate on march 8 was three pages long. days later, the bill ballooned into over 90 pages in the house. the house held less than two hours of floor debate on the
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newly inflated s.b. 202 before governor kemp signed it into law the same day. these legislative actions occurred at a time when the black population in georgia continues to steadily increase. and after a historic election that saw record voter turnout across the state, particularly for absentee voting, which black voters are now more likely to use than white voters. our complaint challenges several provisions of s.b. 202 on the grounds they were adopted with the intent to deny or abridge black citizens' equal access to the political process. the provisions we are challenging reduce access to absentee voting at each step of the process, pushing more black voters to in-person voting, where they will be more likely than white voters to confront long lines.
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s.b. 202 then imposes additional obstacles to casting an in -person -- in-person ballot. these changes were not made in a vacuum. these changes come immediately after successful absentee voting in the 2020 election cycle, especially among black voters. s.b. 202 seeks to halt and reverse this progress. first, the law prohibits election officials from distributing unsolicited applications for absentee ballots, as me did during 2020 -- as they did during 2020. the law irrationally shortened both the period during which voters can request absentee ballots and the period during which election officials can mail them out to voters. in the 2020 election cycle, a voter in georgia could request an absentee ballot up to 180 days before an election.
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and up until the friday before election day. under s.b. 202, the state moved the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot by a week, a critical period -- a critical time period close to election day where data shows that black voters are more likely than white voters to request an absentee ballot. s.b. 202 imposes substantial fines on third-party organizations -- churches and advocacy groups that send follow-up absentee ballot applications and requires new and unnecessarily stringent identification requirements to obtain an absentee ballot. we are also challenging a provision of s.b. 202 that places restrictions on drop boxes and would limit access and ease of voter participation.
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in the 2020 elections and the 2021 runoff georgia, the -- election, the georgia state election board allowed them to drop off absentee ballots in drop boxes. it was widely deployed in the metro atlanta area, where the largest black voting age in georgia resides. during the 2020 election cycle, the four most populous counties in the metro atlanta area provided over 100 drop box locations for voters. under the bill, that number is expected to drop to roughly 20. the drafters of s.b. 202 did not stop their efforts at making absentee voting more difficult. historically, minority voters in georgia have been disproportionately more likely to wait in long lines to vote in person on election day. given those long and protracted wait times, civic groups,
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including churches, have at times provided food and water to voters in line to make their wait more comfortable. s.b. 202 bans the distribution of food and drinks to voters in line as we allege in our complaint, this needless ban was passed with unlawful, discriminatory intent. finally, our complaint challenges a provision of the s.b. 202 that reduces the likelihood that out-of-precinct provisional ballots will be counted. it's well documented that communities of color change residences more frequently than other populations, and because of this greater residential mobility and polling site closures and consolidations, black voters are more likely to end up at the wrong precinct on election day. s.b. 202 reduces the chances that those eligible voters will have their ballot counted. section 2 of the voting rights
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act, one of our nation's bedrock civil rights statutes, prohibits the enforcement of any voting practice or procedure that has the purpose of denying or abridging the vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. as we allege today, s.b. 202 violates this federal law. the attorney general has made clear that the justice department will not stand idly by in the face of unlawful attempts to restrict access to the ballot. today's filing demonstrates the commitment to this charge. the civil rights division stands ready to protect the constitutionally guaranteed voting rights of americans in georgia and wherever else those rights may be threatened in our country. mr. garland: thank you, kristen
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clarke. we have time for a few questions. reporter: attorney general, you refer to the number of states -- state legislatures that passed new voting laws in the last couple of months. can you say whether those -- some of those laws that have passed in mostly republican states is -- are those under review by the department to perhaps challenging the same way you're doing this? secondly, i think the deputy attorney general issued a memo on this issue of threat. can you say whether any idea how many threats are under investigation or is this an effort to sort of get ahead of the 2022 election cycle with regard to threats to election officials? mr. garland: on the first question, we were looking at laws passed before as well as the ones that have been recently passed. as as they are -- and as they are being passed and we will
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make the kind of judgment we made to this one. the voting rights section has a process for evaluating and when the process is completed, if we decide to make a filing, we'll do so. ing if, we'll let -- of course, we'll let you know. with the second question, we're concerned very much about deterring threats and about prosecuting past threats if they violate the law. as to the numbers, i think i'll give the deputy attorney general a chance to talk a little bit more. >> thank you and thank you for the question. look, protecting our right to vote are fundamentally protecting our democracy and so we have to protect them and that's why i issued the directive the attorney general spoke of a few moments ago. ms. monaco: it does two things, fundamentally. it launches a task force within the department to make sure we're bringing the full resources of the department to protect election officials, whether they're appointed,
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whether they're elected, whether they're volunteers regardless of party. and also, what it does is prioritizes and sends a very clear message to the field, every prosecutor and f.b.i., that we need to prioritize the investigation, the identification, engage with state and local officials, we have to eye getify -- identify these threats, prioritize those investigations and hold those individuals accountable who are threatening election officials. one of the reasons for this task force and centralized reporting, which is what this directive also does, is to make sure we fully understand the real scope of these threats to election officials and fundamentally to the right to vote. >> all right. let's go to the electric journal constitution. reporter: hi. there are seven pending lawsuits in georgia against s.b. 202. how is the federal lawsuit
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different? mr. garland: we said in the complaint, you'll see it's quite detailed exactly the provisions that we're filing with respect to -- with respect to the relationship to the other lawsuits, i'll let the assistant attorney general for civil rights answer. >> we looked carefully at the georgia law and determined there's an important federal interest to protect here. ms. clarke: and that's ensuring eligible voters enjoy equal access to the ballot, regardless of race. we will continue to do just that. we will continue to analyze other laws that may be passed across the country. we'll follow the facts and the law, we'll look at these laws carefully and where we determine that there may be

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