Georgia’s New Voting Law: Jim Crow, version 2.0
Georgia’s Republicans are cheating, tilting the playing field as they try to stem a rising tide of Black voters.
April 9, 2021
You may have heard, from Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Wall Street Journal, and other purveyors of alternative reality that there is nothing sinister, nothing wrong at all, about the new voting law that the Georgia legislature passed on March 25. The state is just making its practices more uniform and expanding voters’ access, they claim.
That is sheer, utter nonsense — a whitewash, if you will.
The Republicans in Georgia were shocked when Joe Biden won the state’s electoral votes and its voters elected two Democratic Senators. The Republicans are desperately trying to prevent more Democratic victories. So they are cheating, tilting the playing field, as they create obstacles for Blacks and urban Democratic voters in Georgia.
The new law curtails access to absentee ballots, mail-in voting and early voting. The law reduces the power of the Secretary of State, a Republican, because he upheld the election results, and gives lawmakers the ability to intervene in election disputes. These are Jim Crow measures, just presented in a slicker, more modern version.
A History of Voter Suppression
First, some background. Although the purported rationale for passing this stringent law was to prevent “voter fraud”, there was no significant election fraud in Georgia. State officials conducted two audits by hand. They confirmed that the election was fair and votes were counted accurately.
The real intent behind this law is to suppress voting by Blacks and urban Democrats. This unfortunately follows a long pattern of behavior in Georgia. While Gov. Brian Kemp was Secretary of State — and preparing to run for governor — he purged 1.5 million Georgians from the voting rolls, citing various errors. Most of those voters were Black. Kemp knocked 750,000 people off the rolls in 2017 alone, knowing that he would face Stacey Abrams in the upcoming race for governor.
A Rising Tide of Black Voters
The Republicans rushed this new law through in record time. They passed it less than three months after their candidates lost the run-off elections for Senator. Why are the Republicans so worried?
The reason is the dramatic rise in the number of Black voters, as well as moderate urban whites shifting to the Democratic Party. In 2019, Blacks were one-third of the eligible voters in Georgia, up from 27% in 2000. They represent almost 50% of the growth in the electorate since 2000, according to Pew Research.
Meanwhile, eligible white voters have fallen to 58% from 68% since 2000, according to Pew Research. These two trends are very bad news for a Republican Party that holds little appeal for Black Americans. The Asian and Hispanic vote has grown, too. However, those groups together represent only 8% of the electorate and Hispanics don’t always vote Democratic.
Besides this long-term demographic trend, the Republicans face a pressing tactical problem. Stacey Abrams and her Fair Fight Organization have done a brilliant job of registering new voters and adding purged voters back to the rolls. She has undone some of the damage that Kemp wrought.
A normal political party, seeing these trends, would adjust its policies to broaden its base of voters. But unfortunately, that is not the Republican Party’s modus operandi these days.
Cutting Access to Absentee/ Mail-in Ballots
Voters face strict new ID requirements if they request an absentee ballot, like providing a driver’s license or other state document. Although that sounds reasonable, Georgia previously only required a signature.
In addition, the law forbids officials to mail absentee ballots to all voters. Many Georgia officials did that in 2020, to ensure that citizens could vote and avoid possible exposure to Covid-19.
These two measures are intended to make absentee voting less accessible, because Democrats used such ballots more than Republicans did in 2020.
The new law also slashes the number of drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots in Atlanta, to 23 from 94. Why cut these by 75%? Because the city is a Democratic stronghold and has a lot of Black residents. Atlanta also resembles Los Angeles in that it has little public transportation and traffic is often a nightmare. Voters may think twice about using a drop-off box if they have to drive across the city to find one.
Voters will find it harder to access these boxes, too. Under the new law, the boxes must be placed inside official buildings, which will of course be closed at night. In 2020, most boxes were outside, so voters could drop off their ballots after work or on the weekends. This is yet another obstacle for voters who want to use absentee or mail-in ballots (which are basically the same.)
There’s no justification for these changes, since there was no fraud regarding drop-off boxes stationed outdoors in 2020.
Targeting Black Voters
The law also tightened up early voting rules, so that the polls will be open on weekdays generally during working hours –9am to 5 pm — and they cannot be open after 7 pm. That’s tough for many working-class and lower-middle-class people, who often don’t have flexible work hours. Most Blacks fall into that category.
Furthermore, the law does not require early voting on Sundays, so counties could decide not to offer that option. Many Black churches organize transportation for their parishioners to vote after church on Sundays, so that is when many Black Georgians cast their ballots. This provision would make it harder for many Blacks to vote on Sundays; of course, that is its purpose.
Lawmakers Could Intervene in Elections
In some particularly insidious provisions, the law diminishes non-partisan oversight of elections and gives lawmakers more scope to intervene in disputes over voting tallies. The law removes the Secretary of State, who oversees elections, as a voting member of the State Elections Board. This is a direct attack on Brad Raffensperger, the current Secretary, who is a Republican and a Trump supporter (at least he was before the fights over the election results).
To his credit, Raffensperger acted in a professional, non-partisan manner in supervising the election. The Secretary infuriated Trump, and apparently state lawmakers, by rejecting Trump’s demand that Raffensperger change the vote tally in his favor.
The Republican legislature also gains more control over the State Election Board because its members now will appoint the Board’s chair. Previously the Secretary of State chaired the commission. This is another restriction on Raffensperger’s authority. This arrangement could allow partisan lawmakers to interfere with the certification of election results, rather than let nonpartisan state officials handle it.
Echoes of The Reconstruction Era
The period for run-off elections is cut to 28 days. It’s not a coincidence that the two Democratic Senators won run-off elections in Georgia, partly because they had more time — two months — to raise funds and connect with voters.
It’s a tragedy that the Georgia Legislature is trying so hard to stack the deck against Blacks and white urban Democratic voters. In many ways, this is a replay of the battles over voting rights for Blacks that raged during the Reconstruction Era — 150 years ago.
And now the blight of voter suppression is spreading far beyond the South. Republican lawmakers in 40 other states are watching to see if Georgia can get away with this blatant assault on voting rights.
As Dixie goes, so goes the nation?