Church leaders protest Georgia voting law and seek federal oversight

Demonstrators hold protest signs during a rally Tuesday at the Georgia Capitol calling on Congress to pass legislation that would require the Justice Department to approve changes to state voting laws, as it did before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Religious leaders rallied Tuesday at the Georgia Capitol against laws that they say weaken voting rights, promising to protest companies that fail to take a stand and pressure Congress to pass voter protections.

The faith leaders, representing over 1,000 churches, said they will use Georgia’s new voting law to show the need for a bill pending in the U.S. Senate that would restore federal oversight. They plan to meet with a dozen senators in Washington next week to seek their support.

“Our democracy is at risk,” said Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has sued to stop Georgia’s new voting law. “This is a big fight we’re in, for we wrestle against wickedness in high places, so we’ve got to pray and ask for divine intervention, and then we’ve got to do our part.”

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Jackson was among 40 church leaders, legislators and civil rights advocates at the rally in Liberty Plaza. They have previously called for boycotts of Home Depot and other companies that didn’t publicly oppose Georgia’s voting law, Senate Bill 202.

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Bishop Reginald Jackson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was one of a group of 40 religious leaders who rallied Tuesday at Liberty Plaza, near the Georgia Capitol. The religious leaders, who represented more than 1,000 congregations, opposed Georgia's new election law, Senate Bill 202, and called on Congress to take action to protect voting rights. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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The law limits ballot drop boxes, sets new ID requirements for absentee voting and overhauls elections operations after Republican Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden by less than 12,000 votes.

ExploreHow Georgia’s voting law works

The group called for Congress to pass H.R. 4, which would require the Justice Department to approve of changes to state voting laws, as it did before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. They placed less emphasis on a more sweeping voting rights bill, H.R. 1, which appeared to lack enough votes to pass after Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia opposed it.

Defenders of Georgia’s law said it reduces the possibility of fraud and increases voter confidence.

“After costing Georgia businesses millions of dollars by forcing the All-Star game out of Atlanta, it’s sad — but not surprising — that Stacey Abrams and her allies are continuing their misinformation campaign,” said Stephen Lawson, a spokesman for Greater Georgia, a conservative voting group founded by former Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler. “Fortunately for the majority of Georgians who support the bill, the facts don’t lie: SB 202 increases access to the polls while strengthening integrity and transparency in our elections.”

Before Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star game out of Truist Park in Cobb County, Abrams warned against rushing to boycott companies and events over SB 202.

Those who spoke at the rally said Georgia is one of dozens of states where Republican legislators have introduced bills that make it harder to vote in the wake of last year’s Trump defeat.

“There is no middle ground here. This is the fight of our lifetime,” said Bernice King, CEO of the King Center. “Too many have suffered for voting rights to let it hang in the balance like this. We need corporate America to stand up, speak up and step in.”