Gary Lerude

March 28, 2021

Georgia, Latest Voting Battleground

The foundation of a representative democracy is the idea of the governed electing representatives to "govern" them, i.e., make and carry out laws and policies supporting those laws and, more broadly, act in the best long-term interests of their constituents.

Also part of this democratic foundation is who falls in the category of the governed and is eligible to vote. In the U.S., the right to vote has evolved significantly to encompass all U.S. citizens over the age of 18. When the country was conceived, neither slaves nor women could vote. In 1870, five years after the Civil War, the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted Black men the right to vote, although states enacted various measures to prevent them from voting. The 19th Amendment, which became law in 1920, granted women the right to vote; similar state measures prevented women of color from voting. It took passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 to ban these hurdles preventing people of color from voting.

Now the political battle has shifted to legislation and policies to encourage or discourage voters from actually voting. Following Donald Trump's loss in the 2020 election, and the lie that the election was stolen — particularly the embarrassing losses in Arizona and Georgia, states traditionally voting Republican, and the subsequent election of two Democratic Senators from Georgia — states with Republican controlled legislatures are quickly moving to pass laws to "ensure fair elections," according to the Republicans, or "suppress voting," according to the Democrats.

Last week, Georgia's legislature passed a bill (Senate Bill 202) comprising a long list of changes to regulate future elections, a bill quickly signed by Governor Brian Kemp.

Brian Kemp signs Georgia voting law.jpeg

Governor Brian Kemp tweeted this photo, writing "I was proud to sign S.B. 202 to ensure elections in Georgia are secure, fair, and accessible."

The Republican position is this legislation was warranted to ensure future elections in Georgia are "secure" and to restore voter confidence, addressing the former president's false claims of fraud. The Democrats argue the legislation restricts voter access and will suppress voting, particularly by minority and lower income populations. wrote this summary of the changes enacted by S.B. 202 and their potential impact. Reading through AJC's summary, I see few benefits, more restrictions:

While absentee voting will remain open to anyone and signature matching is eliminated, voters must provide some form of ID to verify their ballots: driver's license, state ID, or acceptable voter ID. That could make voting difficult for someone without any of those — 3 percent of voters according to the AJC article.

The time to request and submit absentee ballots is reduced, limiting the window for voters to request an absentee ballot to between 78 and 11 days before an election. Republicans say the earlier 11 day deadline will reduce the number of ballots being rejected because they are late. However, those with schedule conflicts preventing them from voting on election day would seemingly be excluded from voting if the conflict arises after the deadline.

The number of ballot boxes used to collect absentee ballots is being reduced — significantly — and their placement is only allowed inside early voting locations, where they will only be accessible during regular voting hours. According to the AJC article, "Fulton County used 38 drop boxes in the November election, but it can use only eight under the new law. DeKalb County used 32 boxes in November, but it can use only five going forward." That seems punitive.

As does the requirement prohibiting anyone other than poll workers from giving water or food to voters in line or near a building used as a polling place. What is the rationale for that, particularly when it seems to target polling locations in areas with minorities that have historically had long lines?

Aside from the content of the legislation, the photo of the governor signing the bill has generated controversy, given the symbolism of seven white men standing before a painting of the Callaway Plantation, an historic southern plantation. What we don't see is what was happening outside the governor's office. Park Cannon, a Black state representative for Atlanta, was knocking on the door, seeking to enter the office and witness the signing — likely intending to make a statement. She was arrested by state troopers. Will Bunch, at The Philadelphia Inquirer, filled a column with the symbolism.

Three voting rights groups are already challenging Georgia's new law, and President Biden said the Justice Department is "taking a look" at it, calling it an "atrocity."