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Outcry from Biden, Democrats over Georgia’s new elections law

A new law signed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp Thursday night imposes a series of new restrictions on elections in the state. Supporters say it's necessary for election security, but as Lisa Desjardins reports, it is drawing ire from voting rights groups and even President Joe Biden. We dissect the law and get the Republican perspective from state election official Gabriel Sterling.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new law signed by Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp last night imposes a series of new restrictions on elections in the state, one of the first laws to pass after the 2020 election. Supporters say it's necessary for election security.

    But, as Lisa Desjardins reports, it is drawing ire from voting rights groups and even President Biden.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    A fast-moving issue inside the Georgia state capitol, where a new election law got final passage and was signed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp within hours yesterday.

  • Gov. Brian Kemp:

    Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible, and fair.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Defiant of critics, he said this will improve elections. But outside his office…

  • Woman:

    Why is the governor trying to sign something in private?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … critics were at the door because they see voter suppression. One lawmaker, Democratic state Representative Park Cannon, began knocking on the door and was arrested after police told her to stop.

  • Woman:

    No, you are not. Representative…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Outcry over the legislation mounted over the last month.

    Supporters say the new law, SB-202, increases access primarily by adding another Saturday of early voting, but critics point to myriad other provisions. It shortens the window to get an absentee ballot. It ends signature verification. Instead, absentee voters must have a driver's license number or send a copy of another state I.D. And it makes it a crime to offer food or water to voters who are standing in line.

    Other proposed restrictions were scrapped. The law keeps no excuse-absentee voting in place. And it also keeps early voting on Sunday. A proposal to ban that was seen as particularly harmful to turnout efforts by Black churches.

    But the bill in its final form still drew a rebuke from President Biden, who spoke out against the new law today.

  • Pres. Joe Biden:

    This is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting. You can't provide water for people about to vote. Give me a break.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The voting overhaul was passed with only Republican support and already faces at least one federal lawsuit filed by voting rights groups quickly after it was signed.

    To discuss the new law, Gabriel Sterling is the chief operating officer of the Georgia secretary of state's office. He's a Republican.

    Let's start with those words from President Biden. He called this new law an atrocity. He said — quote — "It's designed to keep people from voting."

    I want your response to that.

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    Well, the president is just simply wrong. He's way off-base.

    And this kind of hyperbole is dangerous. Calling these laws voter suppression has the same level of merit as when the president — former President Trump said there was widespread voter fraud in the state.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I want to come back to that idea of voter suppression talk about that more.

    But, first, let's talk about the politics. Some say this is an openly political move by Republicans to kind of decrease Democratic votes. Now, in November, you told us that the 2020 vote — here on "NewsHour" — that the state did it right and that the vote was secure.

    A lot of folks who are pushing this law say it's about security. Why push it if you think there was not a security problem?

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    Well, because we're talking about the lessons of the past. We're now going to look at the elections of the future.

    And one of the things we saw was an explosion in the use of absentee ballots in the state. We know that voting in person is absolutely secure because it photo I.D.

    And in this law, we move to a thing that actually is a better election administration item, which is using a voter I.D. number, their driver's license number, or their last four of their Social and their date of birth to identify the person, as opposed to a subjective signature match, which kind of undermined many people's faith in how that signature matching was done.

    By having a binary, objective measure, it makes it easier and will likely lower rejection rates for those ballots.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So, you're saying this is about the undermining of faith, because I know that you have come out and said, signature verification worked, that you did not think there was an issue of fraud.

    And I ask this because that absentee question is so important. Who gets to file an absentee? This is where we get to the idea of suppression. There are groups out there saying, adding this layer of requiring more I.D. for people potentially for the absentee, taking away the signature verification, that means fewer voters will have access to absentee ballots.

    And they say that suppression. Why do it if signature verification worked?

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    Well, there's an irony to this, because those very same people sued us to get rid of signature verification just last year, and they lost.

    So, they can't have it both ways. So, this is a way that's easier for counties to administer. It's better for voters. It is more secure. And like I said, it will lower rejection rates.

    The hyperbole around this, this is the issue we have, Democrats, Fair Fight, Stacey Abrams, whatever groups, they need the voter suppression there. Before this law was passed or signed, the press release was ready. It said Georgia passes voter suppression, insert whatever they passed here.

    They have to keep that narrative because that helps them raise money, and really gin up their supporters to get out and vote. The reality of this is, is — this law is, it expands early voting. It protects no-excuse absentee. It now mandates drop boxes where they were going to go away because they were part of the health emergency before altogether. They have never been allowed in law under Georgia until now.

    This is about — this is really expanded voter access. And all the people saying that it's not, they're simply engaging in the same kind of disinformation President Trump was about mass voter fraud. They're saying this is voter suppression. And both are wrong, and both undermine democracy in people's faith in the overall election system.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I hear you on the Saturday voting, that that is adding one more Saturday of access for voters in Georgia.

    But on the I.D. requirement, we know, statistically, that voters of color people, of color in this country, 2-1, have less access to forms of identification required in this law.

    Do you not see that as limiting access, especially, or leading to less access for some groups?

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    Well, I think most people aren't looking what happens in Georgia, where we have 97 percent of all voters have their driver's license or their state-given voter I.D. attached to their actual voter registration record.

    We have incredible — we're number one of the country on, I believe. And the people who are claiming that, the other thing we have is, 99.9 percent have the last four of their Social and their date of birth, which you use on the actual absentee ballot.

    So, those people claiming that there's some hurdle given here are saying this for political reasons, and they know it. And it's just not right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know what is making headlines, of course, is this ban on handing out food and water at the polls. I understand you made the argument that, in the last election, there may have been some activists who used giving out water as an excuse to talk to voters.

    First, do we know that that happened? And, second, if so, why not just enforce the campaign ban? Why eliminate giving out food and water?

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    Well, the main thing is, it's been used as a work-around to get around that law.

    And the irony of this, as we looked it up, this is actually the law in the president's home state of Delaware right now. So, this is not some new thing that's been brought out. This is pretty standard across the country to avoid those kind of loopholes where people can go and campaign and try to influence voters in the line.

    And that's been the law in this state for decades. This was a work-around. People sort of abused it. It's hard to enforce for elections officials and sheriffs. Like I said, it's the law in the president's home state of Delaware. So I'm surprised that shock isn't being held for his own state legislature, who passed the same thing.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Gabriel Sterling, with the Georgia secretary of state's office, thank you for talking with us.

  • Gabriel Sterling:

    Thank you.

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