Are recently passed Georgia voting laws oppressive or justifiable?

Photo courtesy of Blake Israel

Mark Putnam

Conservatives enjoy multiple systemic advantages that bias election results in their favor.

It’s difficult to take them seriously when they claim voter fraud rigged the 2020 election against them, while there is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud or indication that it would have significantly benefited either party.

This has not stopped Republicans.

In the last few months, Republicans nationwide have proposed an unprecedented 250+ state bills to tackle voter fraud. However, many measures in these bills don’t improve election security.

Instead, they restrict voter access and provide Republicans an electoral advantage by exploiting well-documented biases in our electoral system.

Georgia’s version is no exception. Among its provisions are restrictions on absentee and early voting like shrinking the request window for absentee ballots and for them to be sent out.

Early voting for runoff elections is reduced to one week.

Such restrictions only serve to burden voters with busy schedules and rely on the flexibility that these two voting options provide, including single-parents and workers with long hours or multiple jobs, who are all Democratic-leaning demographics.

The restrictions on absentee and early voting will also worsen long voting wait times.

A study by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that average voting wait times for voters in Georgia during the 2018 election was well over 20 minutes, the longest in the nation.

The main cause was the rapid closure of precincts across
the state.

This, combined with the growing electorate has created a bottleneck effect that can translate into lines up to eight hours long in recent elections.

This outrageous barrier impedes constitutional rights and is applied unequally. Precinct closures have targeted the heavily-Democratic metro Atlanta.

Despite housing half of Georgia voters, the metro Atlanta area only contains 38% of the voting precincts.

Such precinct closures are also concentrated in majority nonwhite neighborhoods, causing minorities to wait for 30% longer to vote than white voters.

The new law exacerbates current voting issues.

Absentee voting restrictions will force more people to vote in-person.

Reduced early voting times will also condense the flux of voters, a recipe for disaster for already overloaded voting precincts.

The law also criminalizes distributing food and water to voters in line.

The effect of the law is clear: to suppress the votes of people of color, younger students, and the poor.

Such discriminatory barriers are not only immoral but threaten the security of our democracy itself.

When incumbent politicians can skew election results in their favor, instead of crafting policies that help those they represent, then the question becomes:

How do we vote them out of office?

Micah Veillon

Georgia lawmakers passed Senate Bill 202, with Governor Brian Kemp signing the legislation into law later that day on Thursday, March 25. The bill has garnered national attention as lawmakers and politicians rush to be the next ones to call the bill racist.

President Biden, in his first press briefing on the same day the bill was passed, stated that the bill made “Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, stated that the bill was “racist, plain and simple.” Stacey Abrams stated, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, that the bill is a “redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie.”

California Representative, Ro Khanna, stated that the bill was a “betrayal of our constitution.” Stacey Abrams echoed this view in that same interview with Tapper, stating that she was fundamentally disappointed with Americans who misunderstand our democracy, and that “our system of government demands active participation from citizens to direct the future of our nation.”

These are strong words from the California Rep. and the former Democratic Gubernatorial candidate. I would point to the constitutional convention debates of 1787 in which John Dickinson motioned to have Senators elected by the state legislatures because “the sense of the States would be better collected through their governments than immediately from the people at large.” This was how Senators were elected under the Constitution (see Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1) until the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913, turning the election of Senators over to the people. So, I would say that to posit our government is set up to “demand citizens direct its future” is a little misleading.

The bill maintains Sunday voting, allowing the “souls to the polls” tradition to continue. The bill expands weekend early voting, statewide, to include two weekends instead of one. The bill also leaves no-excuses for absentee voting in place. The bill gets rid of signature matching, and requires that voters who use absentee ballots provide a state ID number (from their driver’s license, or from a free state ID).

This will eliminate the subjective process of trying to decipher signatures, and transition to a much more efficient method of absentee voting. Stacey Abrams, alongside many other politicians and media outlets, claimed that the bill is targeting minority communities, especially those with Black voters. This is simply not true.

For example, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, in 2018 around 2,400 ballots were rejected because of issues with signatures, of which 54% were from Black voters. This bill will eliminate this issue, and thus help Black voters who were the majority of voters hurt by signature matching.

Section 12 of the bill does allow for the state to suspend local election directors and appoint replacements. This has received lots of outrage, and rightfully so.

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, and although I think I disagree with this section, it could be targeted towards officials in counties with botched conduct like Floyd County, where around 2,600 ballots were simply overlooked. In regard to the food or drink issue, Section 33 bars third parties to hand voters food or drink as a tool to influence voters, but explicitly states that unattended self-service water can be made available to voters.

In summary, the bill has some great additions to Georgia law and some areas that I seem to disagree with (like Section 12).

However, to claim that it is a racist bill is the epitome of dishonesty and irresponsibility on the part of elected officials, media outlets, and politicians.