The Republican Party in Georgia just lost the Presidential election and two U.S. Senate elections in that state in the past few months. Their response has been to attack the rights of the people who just voted against them. On straight party line votes, the Republican-controlled Legislature has passed, and Governor Brian Kemp has signed, SB 202, the Sour Grapes Voter Suppression Bill.
What an embittered and vindictive group they are, still in thrall to Donald Trump. Ultimately, they are fools, too. Do they really think the path to winning the next election is to incense all the people who just voted Democratic, for Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff, and motivate them to even greater organizational efforts? In the meantime the group Stacey Abrams founded, the New Georgia Project, and others, have sued Georgia to overturn the new statute for violating Voting Rights and civil rights .
President Biden has vehemently condemned the legislation. It remains to be seen whether a backlash against the Republicans will win the day, but the legislation is truly dangerous, racist, and anti-democratic.
The lawsuit offers an illuminating look at the details of the legislation and its blatant racism. The bill is targeted to curb how Democrats won the Georgia elections. Five million people voted in the Georgia Presidential election, including 1.3 million by absentee ballot, almost 27%. It’s widely understood that Democrats across the nation voted by mail far more than Republicans did, thanks to the former President’s denunciations of that process, and Georgia was no exception. A CBS/You Gov Oct.20-23, 2020 Poll in Georgia before the election (See Table Below) shows Democrats nearly twice as likely as Republicans to vote by mail, 25% vs. 14%. Republicans, I estimate, based on calculations from this table, were only about one-fourth of the electorate voting by mail.
The election results make it clear that an assault on mail ballots is an assault on the successful efforts of the Democrats to win the election. The new Georgia Voter Suppression bill adds many new restrictions involving mail ballots, including curbing drop boxes, which were heavily utilized in Georgia by voters placing their absentee ballots in the drop boxes.
“To ensure their absentee ballots were received by election officials,” the complaint states (p.12), “ and to avoid mail-delivery errors or delays, voters relied heavily on drop boxes- secure receptacles on government property under 24/7 video surveillance where absentee ballots could be submitted. In Fulton County, for example, which is majority nonwhite, more than half of the 146,000 absentee ballots cast in the November election were submitted in a drop box.”
The new legislation prohibits counties from offering outdoor drop boxes, and they will only be available indoors at the early polling locations, and only when they are open. Richard Barron, the Executive Director of the Fulton County Election Board, said, “The drop boxes have essentially been rendered useless,” and that he would have to eliminate 30 out of the 38 that were used. The bill also bans mobile voting stations, which were used in Fulton County to help relieve overcrowding and long lines at the polls.
The bill compels voters to submit a drivers’ license or State ID with their absentee ballot application, prohibits the State and counties from sending absentee ballot applications unsolicited, and punishes groups that send absentee ballot applications out to a voter who has previously requested one or already voted absentee. The absentee ballot application deadline is pushed back from the Friday before the election to two Fridays before the election. Commenting on these changes, the complaint states that a national study shows that 25% of Blacks do not have government-issued ID, and that, in Georgia, there were 17,000 absentee ballot applications in the last week of the interval now banned, 37% of them from Black residents of Georgia.
Making voting by absentee ballot more difficult will drive more people to vote in-person, where long lines and wait times to vote disproportionately affect Black voters. The complaint states on p. 13 that “ A recent study found that the average wait time in Georgia after polls were scheduled to close was six minutes in neighborhoods that were at least 90% white, and 51 minutes in places that were at least 90% nonwhite. “ The Republican’s amazing solution to the voting delays in the legislation was to prohibit groups from giving food and water to persons waiting on the lines.
Other pernicious elements of the legislation include granting Georgians an unlimited right to challenge the registrations of voters, and require registrars to hold hearings on these challenges within a short period of time. This opens up opportunities to harass and abuse voters to disenfranchise them. The bill also shortens a runoff election from nine weeks to four weeks, and curtails early voting during the runoff period from three weeks to five days.
The lawsuit did not address an element of the legislation that is potentially very dangerous, which alters the structure of the State Board of Election and gives it the power to remove local boards of election for up to nine months. Local boards do important things like certify the results of elections. The lawsuit may not have addressed this provision because its discriminatory impact could only be demonstrated in an actual exercise of the powers granted the State Board. The State Board of Election sets the uniform rules for the conduct of elections by local boards and election registrars and poll officials, and has the power to conduct investigations of election complaints. The Legislature removed the Secretary of State as the Chair of the State Board ( and, thus, its chief executive officer), and substitutes someone appointed by a majority of both Houses of the Legislature, namely, a Republican. Of course, Brad Raffensberger, the elected Secretary of State, whose office was removed as Chair of the State Board of Election, is a Republican too, but he did fairly administer the election, as was his lawful duty. That appears to be the problem.
The partisanship goes beyond even the new Chair. Of the remaining four members of the State Board, one each will be appointed by a House of the Legislature ( two more Republicans), and one each will be appointed by the State Republican and the State Democratic Parties. As a practical matter this will give the State Election Board a 4-1 Republican majority.
The State Board is given the power to suspend up to four local Boards in a year, and appoint a sole “ Superintendent “ with all the powers of local election officials, including certifying the results of the election, and hearing the challenges to voters’ eligibility to vote. The State Election Board, with its 4-1 Republican majority, appoints this local elections dictator.
The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court in Georgia and will wind its way through the Courts, and may reach the current 6-3 conservative majority in the United States Supreme Court, which is already considering other Voting Rights Act cases.
Will the Republican goal of the legislation, stopping the Democrats from winning statewide elections, be helped by what they have done? The vast expansion of the use of mail ballots in 2020 was clearly related to COVID-19. Can Georgia and the rest of the nation get past the pandemic and voting return to normal, in which the vast majority of people will again vote in person, whether early or on Election Day ? In Georgia in 2022 will be the Governor’s race and a rerun for Senator Warnock. Will the ugly racism of the legislation only motivate the Black community and Democrats in Georgia to intensify their organizational efforts, and produce another Democratic win? Turnout could keep setting records. But the legislation is deeply dangerous to democracy.