Georgia Gov. Brain Kemp (R) signed a Republican-backed election bill into law on Thursday that contains sweeping changes to the state’s elections that already have voting rights advocates filing a legal challenge. These changes include introduction of new voter-ID requirements for absentee ballots, limitations on the use of ballot drop boxes, and more legislative control over the elections. And in a bad indication of the environment, state lawmaker Park Cannon, who is Black, was arrested and hauled into a police car after knocking on Kemp’s door during the bill signing.
In the 2020 election, Joe Biden became the first Democrat to win Georgia in a presidential election since 1992. And then in January, Democratic candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff swept the state’s two Senate seats, taking the majority control of the U.S. Senate from the GOP. After an election season with historically high turnout across the country and Democratic wins heavily driven by Black voters support, Republicans in Georgia and across the country have now embarked on a coordinated effort to restrict access to voting.
But for some in the media, the issue of voting rights is just another political game between the parties, rather than an important struggle for constitutional rights.
Earlier on Thursday, for example, National Journal tweeted out an article that played the both-sides maneuver against coverage of congressional Democrats H.R. 1 bill, which passed the House on March 3 and is meant to protect voting rights, and Republican efforts to make voting more difficult.
Georgia isn’t just some “overheated” political play
Simply put, whether people can or cannot vote should not be viewed as equivalent positions in the course of political debate.
Politico, for example, had an item in Friday morning’s Playbook highlighting Thursday’s events in Georgia with the title, “Your Move, Democrats.”
YOUR MOVE, DEMOCRATS — “Sweeping changes to Georgia elections signed into law,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed a vast rewrite of Georgia’s election rules into law Thursday, imposing voter ID requirements, limiting drop boxes and allowing state takeovers of local elections after last year’s close presidential race. Kemp finalized the bill just over an hour after it cleared the General Assembly, leaving no doubt about its fate amid public pressure against voting restrictions.
“Protesters outside the Capitol said the bill would disenfranchise voters, calling it ‘Jim Crow 2.0.’ State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, was arrested by state Troopers after knocking on Kemp’s office door to try to witness the bill signing. He briefly interrupted his prepared remarks as Cannon was forcibly removed from the building by officers.”
National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar also tweeted that the Democrats’ “overheated” allegations of voter suppression might just spur on greater voter mobilization.
Kraushaar then remarked that “raising the flag of voter suppression is one of the more effective ways to turn out your base.” He quickly attracted some critical responses:
Kraushaar also claimed that the bill “doesn’t do nearly as much as advertised,” overlooking the political atmosphere in which far more extreme proposals have circulated and were changed only after vigorous public protest. Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to abolish no-excuse absentee voting — available since 2005 and used heavily by Democratic voters in 2020 — and tried to curtail early voting on Sundays, which has traditionally been used by Black church leaders to mobilize voters. (Kraushaar simply noted that “Souls to the Polls remains in Georgia,” without any acknowledgement of just how hard people had worked on the ground to keep it.)
The fact that a less extreme bill passed is not simply a non-story if it followed weeks of controversy and efforts to prevent something even worse.
The Georgia legislation exists because of Democratic victories propelled by Black voters — plus Trump’s Big Lie
Kemp said after signing the bill: “There’s no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled, and those problems, understandably, led to a crisis of confidence in the ballot box here in Georgia.”
Of course, this “crisis of confidence” about the 2020 election result exists because it was stirred up by Fox News, other right-wing media, and Republican politicians and activists pushing the Big Lie advanced by former President Donald Trump that the election was stolen from him. Most notoriously in Georgia’s case, Trump threatened Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, with prosecution if he did not help to reverse Biden’s victory in the state.
And now, this new law strips the secretary of state of their position as the chair of the state board of elections. Instead, a majority of the board will now be appointed by the legislature, and the board will have the ability to suspend and replace local county elections officials.
Georgia Public Broadcasting notes that the law caps the number of counties where the state board could replace the local officials at four. This number may be enough to take control of the counties with larger populations where both Joe Biden and the new Democratic senators carried their victories with overwhelming margins in the Atlanta metro area.
And perhaps most notoriously, the new law makes it a crime to give food or water to voters waiting in lines. The important context here is that voters in Georgia, especially in minority communities, had to wait in line for up to 11 hours to vote last year. Academic studies have also shown that “relative to entirely-white neighborhoods, residents of entirely-black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote and were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 minutes at their polling place.”
Simply put, urban areas with large minority populations are routinely not given enough resources and polling places, thus causing them to have to wait in line for much longer in order to vote. Though the new law does take some steps to correct this longstanding problem, a person might be suspicious at why delivering any basic rations to people in long lines that might still exist would also be forbidden.