By Gloria Tatum with additional reporting by Stephen Wing……..
Georgia turned Blue last year thanks in large part to former Georgia House Minority Leader, Stacey Abrams, who was able to register enough Blacks, Latinos, and young citizens to overcome former Secretary of State (SOS) Brian Kemp’s long history of voter suppression targeting African Americans.
Abrams’ New Georgia Project delivered over 80,000 registration forms from new voters to Kemp in 2014, but 40,000 of them mysteriously disappeared under his oversight. In 2018 she challenged him in Georgia’s gubernatorial race.
During Kemp’s time as SOS from 2010 to 2017, he purged 1.5 million voters – 668,000 of them in 2017 alone. A year later he defeated Abrams to win the governorship by only 55,000 votes. Only through litigation over those 668,000 voters did we learn that 400,000 of them were wrongly purged, according to investigative reporter Greg Palast. Kemp very likely owes his job to the longstanding Republican principle of suppressing the vote.
But as Georgia’s population becomes more and more diverse, the New Georgia Project is continuing to build a multi-racial and multi-ethnic voter coalition in our formerly majority-Republican state. Abrams’ volunteers registered over 200,000 new voters for the November 2020 election.
Unlike Kemp, Brad Raffensperger, the new Republican SOS, helped Georgians vote in the midst of a deadly pandemic by sending out absentee ballot applications to every registered voter. This helped both parties, especially older citizens and people with underlying medical conditions who are at high risk of hospitalization or dying from COVID to vote safely.
Many powerful Republicans were unhappy with Raffensperger’s decision because they know that more people voting would weaken their control in Georgia.
Now that Georgia has turned Blue, Republican lawmakers have advanced a series of voter suppression bills in hopes of reversing this process by making it more difficult to vote. If the Georgia GOP were more diverse they would not have to suppress the vote to win. But unfortunately, the Republican party has been taken over by white supremacists and crazy conspiracy cults. Many Republican leaders and representatives who know better continue to repeat Trump’s lies that have radicalized their base. This is not a welcoming environment for people of color.
The GOP’s so-called “Election Integrity” bills are being introduced without any proof of the massive voter fraud which they say justifies these measures – the same baseless claims that Trump cited to try to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Yet SOS Raffensberger has denied that voter fraud played any part in turning Georgia Blue, and his counterparts in other Republican states also say Biden won fairly. So if “Election Integrity” is not the reason for these bills, what is? The way each bill is designed to limit voting options leads to the inescapable conclusion that Georgia’s Republicans fear more people of color voting in a free and fair election:
Here are voter suppression bills being advanced in the Georgia General Assembly:
SB 67 – voting by absentee ballot requires one photo ID to apply, another to vote
SB 68 – bans ballot drop boxes
SB 69 – ends automatic voter registration
SB 70 – prohibits new Georgia residents from voting in runoffs
SB 71 – requires an excuse to vote absentee
SB 72 – mandates monthly updates on voters who have died
SB 73 – bans non-profits from mailing absentee ballot applications to voters
SB 74 – expands poll watcher access
If these bills become law, they will suppress Democratic turnout and will achieve their purpose of making Georgia Red again by making it more difficult to vote, especially for low-income people. It’s hard to imagine a clearer definition of “voter fraud.”
Georgia is not alone in introducing voter suppression bills; 28 states have introduced, prefiled, or carried over a total of 106 restrictive electoral bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. With no evidence of voter fraud, Republicans claim they need these laws because their base believes there is massive voter fraud and they need to restore confidence in the ballot box. Their base believes in voter fraud because Trump lied and many Republicans continue to repeat his “Big Lie” that he won.
These proposed bills seek to limit mail voting access; impose stricter voter ID requirements; limit successful pro-voter registration policies; and enable more aggressive voter roll purges. Trump filed dozens of lawsuits, and lost every case – not just because he had no proof of voter fraud, but because the evidence brought to light in courtroom after courtroom proved overwhelmingly that the election was in fact fair and honest.
Democratic wins did not happen because of massive voter fraud, as Trump would like everyone to believe. Trump lost because the majority of the American public woke up to his unending lies, corruption, cruelty, chaos and incompetence. His multiple attempts to overthrow the election, and democracy itself, to set himself up as an authoritarian dictator confirmed that the voters made the right choice. Yet the majority of Republicans in Congress still cling to Trump like rats to a sinking ship.
These repressive bills can only be explained as retaliation by Republicans against historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election that gave the House, the Senate, and the Executive branch to the Democrats. Republican lawmakers hide behind Trump’s Big Lie to push regressive voter laws intended to restrict the Constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.
But these efforts are not new; they have only intensified since the Republican losses of 2020. Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v Holder weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA), which prohibited racial discrimination in elections, Republicans have gone wild passing voter suppression laws under a false flag of massive voter fraud.
The Democrats, who usually “bring a water pistol to a gunfight,” are finally beginning to learn that they must get tougher now that the Republican Party has gone down the Q-Anon rabbit hole into a Wonderland of delusional conspiracies.
Democratic legislators in 35 states are proposing new policies to expand access to voting, rather than restrict it. A total of 406 expansive state-level bills focus on mail voting, early voting, voter registration, and voting rights restoration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-2021)
The For the People Act, HR-1, was passed by the House of Representatives in 2019 to expand voting rights, reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, hold federal officeholders to a higher ethical standard, and more. Its Senate counterpart, S-1, was not given a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Republican-controlled Senate. But the new Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer, has announced that passing it is a top priority.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, H.R. 4, aims to combat racial discrimination in voting by restoring and strengthening the protections of the VRA. It too was passed by the House in 2019, and was ignored by the Senate when introduced by Vermont’s Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy in 2020. Passing it in 2021 should be a priority for Chuck Schumer and the Democrats in the Senate.
As citizens, we need to stay involved, stay informed, and keep voting if we want to keep our democracy – whether Georgia’s Republicans want us to or not.