Recent voter reform, Senate Bill 202, passed in the Georgia General Assembly has received, shall we say, controversial publicity. Conservatives say it helps secure elections and expands voting rights while Liberals say this is a voter suppression bill and disenfranchises voters of color.
Personally, I typically am center on political issues, if not slightly right of center, but this time I am going to agree with the Liberals. I think this bill is out right voter suppression, and I believe it is designed to shave off just enough Democratic votes to allow the republicans to stay in power in close races, as in the upcoming gubernatorial race. These are not what President Biden calls 21st century Jim Crow laws, but they do have the most effect on minority voters, the largest minority being the black community. This bill was passed on 1 April 2021 and went into effect immediately.
Before we dig much further, we need to get some background on the bill. Following the 2020 presidential election, accusations of fraud came from the Republicans and more specifically were spread by out-going President Trump. A handful of states that voted strongly for republicans in past presidential elections, voted Democrat for the first time in a few decades. Trump said that the election was rigged and stolen from him by the Democrats. This was partly because of the massive difference in votes initially between him and Biden. Trump had encouraged his supporters to vote in person on Election Day. Most states use at least some form of electronic tabulation, so in-person votes are typically counted as they are cast at the polls. In contrast, Biden and Democrats greatly encouraged absentee voting, or mail-in voting. Most of the time absentee and mail-in ballots are not counted until the polls close on Election Day. In Georgia that is at 7 PM. Because most of the Republican votes were cast on election day, counting was mostly complete at the time of closing. Most Democratic votes were cast via remote which meant counting did not start until that evening.
When the Georgia General Assembly convened in January one of the first bills to be drafted by the Senate was a voting reform bill to address the ‘concerns’ from the 2020 General Election. One of the biggest concerns was that there were fraudulent mail-in ballots and that the ballots were separated from identifying documents.
In any modern western democratic country, there are a few agreed upon ground rules for an election: votes should be anonymous, and voters should be free to express their views in an election without fear of repercussions. Many people were up in arms that the identities of voters could not be confirmed after the signature verification process. The rule was followed that identifying documents were to be separated from the ballots. This is where the first-round of accusations of fraud come from. The belief is that fake ballots were counted and could not be verified afterwards. Investigations that followed revealed that there was little to no fraud committed via this method. The Georgia Senate addressed this concern by changing the required information for ballot verification, which I believe is a good thing. The ID requirements for absentee and mail-in voting should be the same as those for in-person voting.
Where I believe the Georgia General Assembly messed up is with drop boxes. The new bill severely restricts the number of ballot boxes allowed. They are now restricted to a minimum of one, but not more than one per 100,000 registered voters. I live in Catoosa County so I will use my county as an example. For the 2021 Election, Catoosa County had three ballot drop boxes, one at the Ringgold Voting Precinct, one at the Ft. Oglethorpe Police Office/City Hall, and one at the West Side Precinct. Catoosa County has less than 100,000 residents. Which means that there were definitely less than 100,000 registered voters, now restricting the number of drop boxes to the loneliest number of one. Some might argue that this is fine, but Catoosa County is small in population and size when compared to Floyd, Fulton, or Gwinnett counties. People in these counties will have harder times accessing the ballot boxes due to population size and land area. The counties that will be affected the hardest by this will be ones that are large in terms of land mass and small in terms of population.
The part of the legislation that I have the biggest issue is the part concerning food and drink. In the smaller counties this is not a problem but in the larger ones waiting in line to vote is a common sight. Previously anyone could hand out food and water to voters in line. This is now illegal. It is true that you cannot campaign near polling locations. This is a good thing. You do not want an election artificially influenced by voter intimidation. But let us say that the average Joe is handing out water bottles and maybe cheese sticks to the voters stand in line. Please tell me how that is voter intimidation. I say it is not. With the new legislation, the only people allowed to hand out refreshments are poll workers and elections board officials. Think about this for a moment. If you are standing in line for hours waiting to vote and the poll workers are processing voters, do you think that they will have the excess time to hand out water?
Here is an example that Political Science Professor Rick Crawford shared (best government professor ever, by the way. He is a Deacon at his church, which also happens to function as a polling place for his county. During past elections he has been at his church during Election Day and from time to time he would go to get water bottles from the cooler in the kitchen and give them to voters. He would be dressed in neutral colored clothing with maybe just his Deacon’s name tag on. The water bottle would have a sticker that says something like ‘Jesus loves You’ and the church name. Under the new regulations he can no longer do that. The water would have to be provided by the elections board and be handed out by them. In my eyes this is a way to discourage voters and allow physical distresses to cause them to leave the polling place without voting.
The last biggest change to the voting protocols in Georgia are the rules and time requirements for run-off elections. One of the most intense run-off elections in Georgian history occurred on 5 January for both United State Senate seats. While most states have done away with their run-off elections, Georgia has chosen to hang on to them. Previously run-off elections were held nine weeks after the General Election. Now they are to be held four weeks following the election. I love the fact that I will not have deal with political ads over Christmas time. However, I do not believe that four weeks is enough time to process absentee and mail-in ballot requests, especially in counties with lots of voters like Fulton. I also think the original purpose of run-off elections might be showing through here. Run-off elections were part of Jim Crow initially to try to keep legislatures white in the south. The hope was that it would cause a white and a black candidate to be pitted against each other and because there are more whites voting, the white candidate would win.
I know I have pelted these new laws to death but there is one thing that I am in full favor of: mandatory early voting days. Georgia now has seventeen mandatory early voting days. I love this. My neighbor is a pilot for Delta Airlines based at Atlanta airport. The early voting is awesome for him because he might be in a different country on election day. The early voting period allows him to vote in person and have a traditional experience without having to vote absentee unless chooses to.
I love my state and my country. I love the democratic process and I hate to see democratically elected leaders try to remove opportunities for people to express their vote and opinion. I do not want this to be taken in any way that I am saying that anyone should be allowed to vote in our elections. I do believe in election security, but it should not be extended to infringing on the voting rights of legal voters. Restricting drop boxes, run-off election time, and charitable water access I believe are starting to infringe on these rights. You could have a completely different opinion than I, but I would like you to stop to think about my views here.
I have bashed the Republicans here; but both Democrats and Republicans have committed gerrymandering before. Both sides are just as guilty as the other. To be honest I do not like either side and I hate it when someone says that because you are of a certain group that you must vote for a certain group. This divides our country even more than it already is. I was able to vote for the first time in the 2020 General election and I voted for a mix of candidates–some Republican, some Democrat, and lots of Libertarian ones. I believe that you should vote for the candidate that represents you the best and not by the party that they associate themselves. Go and do your research and become involved in your community and government.