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Georgia sued for third time over voting restrictions as Delta, Coke face boycott calls

(Reuters) - Civil rights groups intensified their legal fight against Georgia’s new voting restrictions with a third federal lawsuit, while Atlanta-based corporations Delta Air Lines Inc and Coca-Cola Co continued to face boycott calls from activists who say they need to do more to oppose the law.

FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather outside of the Georgia State Capitol to protest HB 531, which would place tougher restrictions on voting in Georgia, in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Dustin Chambers/File Photo

The Republican-backed law, which Governor Brian Kemp signed last week, strengthened identification requirements for absentee ballots, gave lawmakers the power to take over local elections, sharply limited the use of ballot drop boxes, shortened early voting periods for runoffs and made it a misdemeanor for members of the public to offer food and water to voters waiting in line.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta late on Monday called the law racially discriminatory and “an attack on democracy itself”.

“This law is voter suppression, plain and simple, and aimed at making it harder for Black and brown and other historically disenfranchised communities to have a voice in our democracy,” said Sophia Lakin of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“It is an absolutely shameful response to the historic participation by these communities in the last election cycle.”

The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the latest lawsuit on behalf of several grassroots groups. They included the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which takes in more than 500 churches in Georgia, and the historically Black sorority Delta Sigma Theta.

The state already faces two other similar lawsuits brought by civil rights groups over the law.

Kemp’s office declined to comment on pending litigation.

MORE MOVES TO RESTRICT VOTING

Republican lawmakers in several other political battlegrounds, including Florida and Arizona, are pursuing voting restrictions as well, which they say are aimed at curbing fraud. Research has shown that voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States.

Delta and Coca-Cola, both headquartered in Atlanta, have faced boycott calls on social media from critics who say the companies have not taken a forceful enough stand against the restrictions.

“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we don’t see this as the final chapter,” Coca-Cola said in a statement released on Monday. The company said it would “continue to press for improvements to Georgia’s election laws in future sessions”.

Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian said on Friday the airline had “engaged extensively with state elected officials in both parties to express our strong view that Georgia must have a fair and secure election process”, and that the legislation had “improved considerably” during legislative deliberations.

“Nonetheless, we understand concerns remain,” Bastian said.

In an open letter on Monday, Bernice King, the daughter of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., criticized the Atlanta business community for its “shocking silence,” especially after last year’s civil unrest prompted a national reckoning on race.

The letter was also signed by the sons of two other civil rights icons: John-Miles Lewis, whose father was the late congressman John Lewis, and Al Vivian, son of the late Reverend C.T. Vivian.

Democrats won Georgia in November’s presidential election for the first time in decades, and then followed it up by sweeping two U.S. Senate races in January, giving the party narrow control of Congress.

Republican former President Donald Trump has claimed falsely that his loss to Democratic President Joe Biden was due to massive voter fraud, including in Georgia.

Multiple state recounts found no significant irregularities.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Mark Heinrich

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