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The Justice Department is suing the state of Georgia over its voting law, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the head of the department’s Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke, announced Friday, arguing that it violates the Voting Rights Act.

“Today, the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia,” Garland said Friday at the Justice Department. He continued, “Recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or 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.”

Garland told reporters that the lawsuit “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.”

Georgia’s new election law, signed by GOP Governor Brian Kemp in March, outraged Democrats and voting rights groups with voter ID provisions and changes to mail-in voting that they say will make it more difficult for minorities and poorer voters to cast their ballots. While it adds new restrictions to absentee voting, the law also expands early voting opportunities, formalizing provisions that accommodated voters during the pandemic. It also codifies the use of drop boxes with strict rules on how they can be used and sets new rules for state and local election officials.

Garland’s announcement was expected, even if its timing was not. Two weeks ago, he delivered a speech promising to expand the Justice Department’s efforts to protect voting rights in response to the weakening of the federal Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013. He said the department would confront state and local efforts that he said “will make it harder to vote,” and examine election laws “to determine whether they discriminate against Black voters and other voters of color.”  

Adam Brewster and Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed.