DemDaily: Bullies at the Ballot Box. Georgia

March 29, 2021

Last Thursday, Georgia Republicans passed sweeping new restrictive voter legislation, marking the first victory in a larger national Republican Party effort to dramatically roll back access to the ballot box in states.

(Megan Varner/Getty)

The new 98-page law, which passed both Republican-controlled chambers of the state legislature along party lines, was immediately signed into law by GOP Governor Brian Kemp.

Kemp, who was elected under a cloud of voter suppression in his 2018 victory over former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D), has become the poster boy for anti-voting rights.

The egregious legislation comes after Georgia voters elected a Democratic president for the first time in nearly thirty years, and almost three months after the state GOP lost two special elections that gave Democrats control of the US Senate.

With passage of SB 202, Kemp becomes the first Governor to sign into law one of 250 new bills in 43 states that would make it harder for Americans, particularly minorities, to vote. That is more than seven times the number of bills compared to the same point in 2020.

Praised by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation as a "model for the rest of the country," "The Election Integrity Act of 2021," reads as a menu for voter suppression.

Highlights
Increases voter ID requirements: Voters must now submit a driver's license number or other documentation to vote absentee. People without a driver's license or state ID must submit additional proof of their identity.

Kemp: The law is an "alternative" to the "dangerous agenda" being pushed by "Democrats in the left." (Rev.com)

Currently, 36 states require some form of voter identification at the polls.

Decreases absentee ballot access: Cuts the time period for requesting mail-in ballots by more than half and delays the date for sending out absentee ballots by three weeks. Voters will have to request absentee ballots 11 days before an election, rather than the Friday before Election Day as previously allowed.

It also prohibits the Secretary of State's office from sending unsolicited absentee ballot applications, as it did before the 2020 primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 elections in Georgia saw a 350% increase in the use of absentee balloting compared to Election Day in 2018. 28% of votes cast during the early voting period were by Black voters, and over 65% of the total absentee votes went to Joe Biden.

Limits ballot drop boxes: Cuts back drop box locations, limited to inside early voting locations and hours only. Drop boxes will not be available to voters in the last four days of an election, when it's too late to mail ballots in time.

Stacey Abrams led mobilization that registered 800,000 new GA voters in 2020 (Hyosub Shin/AJC)

Increases challenges to voter registration: Allows unlimited challenges to voter registrations and eligibility -- a common tactic used to racially profile voters, intimidate them from voting, or knock them off the voter rolls completely.

Restructures Elections Authority: Demotes the Secretary of State as chairman of the State Board of Elections and allows the GOP-led legislature to install their own chair, giving them three of five appointments.

It also gives the state board the authority to override county board decisions on disqualifying ballots and voter eligibility and to replace an entire local board with an administrator if they deem necessary.

After the 2020 election, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused to give in to former President Donald Trump's demand to "find" 11,780 more Republican ballots and overturn the presidential election results in the state.

Outlaws "Line Warmers": Bans volunteer "line warmers" from handing out water, food or even folding chairs to people waiting in long lines to vote -- claiming it is a form of electioneering and undue influence, despite the fact that items are handed out to all voters.

Stanford University analysis of Georgia's 2020 primary election found that the average wait time after 7:00pm was 51 minutes in polling places that were 90% or more nonwhite, but only six minutes in polling places that were 90% white.

In a shocking side drama, Georgia State Rep. Park Cannon was arrested, charged with "knowingly and intentionally" knocking on the governor's door during the bill signing (USAToday)

Shortens runoffs and changes primaries: Shortens the runoff cycle from nine weeks to just four weeks and ends Georgia's open "jungle primary" system for special elections. 

Legal Challenges
The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise have already filed federal lawsuits challenging provisions of the law, declaring they violate both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

They are the first of what is expected to be numerous lawsuits filed not only in Georgia, but in other states as similar voter suppression bills are passed in the coming months.

Restrictive bills have already been introduced in 19 states where Republicans have control of both the legislature and the governorship.

Biden called the GA law "un-American," and "Jim Crow in the 21st Century" (LA Times)

Federal Remedies
Although President Biden has sworn to "do everything in my power" to prevent the state-level measures from becoming the law, ultimate control of many provisions still lies with the state.

On March 3rd the US House passed the For the People Act, major election reform legislation that would expand voting rights and mitigate some, but not all, of the voter suppression provisions in the Georgia law and other states.

The Act would force states to offer at least 15 days of early voting, universal access to mail-in voting and same-day registration for federal races.

On March 3rd the US House passed the For the People Act, major election reform legislation that would expand voting rights and mitigate some, but not all, of the voter suppression provisions in the Georgia law and other states.

Without the support of at least ten Republicans needed to break a filibuster, however, both may be fated to the growing list of legislative initiatives stalled in the partisan graveyard.

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Kimberly Scott
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Sources: Brennan Center, CNN, Rolling Stone, Atlanta Magazine, Georgia Public Broadcasting, Ballotpedia, NBC

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