A Georgia lawmaker who was forcibly removed and arrested from the state’s Capitol as Governor Brian Kemp signed sweeping ballot restrictions into law has vowed to combat voter suppression, as an outpouring of support and outrage across the US has followed her arrest.
“I will not stand by while our voting rights are threatened across this state, the state I swore an oath to represent with integrity, honesty, and respect for the millions of people who live and work in this community,” Democratic state Rep Park Cannon said in a statement on Friday hours after her release from a Fulton County jail.
Widely shared video of her arrest shows Ms Cannon, who is Black, handcuffed with her arms behind her back after she was removed as Governor Kemp announced his signature on the Republican-backed legislation, which transfers election oversight from election officials and into the hands of Republican lawmakers, reduces the number of places where people can vote and makes it a criminal offence to provide food and water to people waiting in voting lines, among other provisions that disproportionately target Black voters.
“Voting is a constitutional right guaranteed to every person over the age of 18 born not only in Georgia but in every corner of the United States,” Ms Park said. “To limit that right is to go against our Constitution and the ideals of the Founding Fathers that Conservative Georgians hold so dear.”
She added: “So it confuses and concerns me that those same conservative lawmakers that are now fighting so hard to limit and suppress the voting rights of all Georgians, but specifically Black and brown voters, a population of voters who have historically been disenfranchised in this state.”
Georgia is not alone – dozens of GOP-backed bills in at least 43 states have proposed tightening restrictions on ballot access, from strict voter ID laws to eliminating early voting periods and absentee voting, fuelled by the false narratives of widespread voter fraud and “irregularities” in 2020 elections promoted by former president Donald Trump.
US Senator Raphael Warnock – one of two Democratic senators from Georgia elected in recent elections – said her arrest marked a “very sad day for the state of Georgia”.
“What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy,” he told reporters outside a Fulton County jail on Thursday night.
Ms Park faces one charge of obstructing law enforcement officers by use of threats or violence and a second charge of disrupting a general assembly session or other meeting of members. In video footage, she can be seen repeatedly asking police why she is being arrested and telling them she is a state lawmaker.
Georgia’s state constitution provides that lawmakers “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly” except for treason, felony or breach of the peace.
“This effort to silence the voices of Georgians who stood up in a historic election in November and January will not stand,” he said. “The goal of voter suppression is to demoralise the electorate to people don’t even bother to try. … They’re trying to fix something that’s not even broken. We should be making it easier for people to vote, not harder. The people aren’t asking for this. This is democracy in reverse. Rather than people choosing their politicians, politicians are trying to cherry pick their voters.”