Voting has become the new battlefront on America’s partisan fight, last week’s approval of the Georgia Electoral Reform Bill has awakened a rage-filled debate over the morality and true intentions of the legislation, with Democrats and progressive activists actively calling the law “Jim Crow 2.0” and Republicans saying that, on the contrary, the bill actually expands voting days while ensuring common-sense security measures.
Even Baseball, the best thing to happen during Spring, has been reluctantly brought into the political fistfight, with the MLB deciding to move out the All-Star game out of Atlanta and relocate it to Denver, as a response to Georgia’s electoral law, a move that even Stacey Abrahams has admitted would only hurt the working people of the Peach State.
Democrats have argued the bill’s provisions requiring a state-ID when submitting an absentee ballot or prohibiting activists to give water or food to voters within 150 feet of the polls as blatant voter restriction, a throwback to the terrible days of racial segregation in the South when black Americans had to pass impossible literacy tests to get their right to vote.
Republicans have not stayed idly by as their opponents quickly categorized their bill as the child of Storm Thurmond and George Wallace segregationist spirits. With Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the same one who publicly debunked Trump’s allegations of massive fraud in Georgia, publishing an article in the National Review where he carefully laid out the case for the law, arguing that far from suppressing the vote, the bill just provides commonsense measures to ensure a smooth election.
Even Mitt Romney, who voted in favor of President Trump’s impeachment twice, has come out criticizing the way the media has covered the discussion over the bill, accusing them of openly taking sides and spreading partisan misinformation.
So, what is really inside the Georgia bill? Is it the dream of white supremacists who wish to strip African Americans of their right to vote, or is it actually the golden rule for electoral reform that the rest of the country should follow?
Expanding Georgia’s in-person voting hours and days
President Biden has repeatedly claimed that the new law would end voting hours early, saying that the legislation would end up hurting the working man and woman of Georgia who would not be able to cast their votes. Those claims by Mr Biden are demonstrably false, with The Washington Post giving Biden four Pinocchios for lying to the public, a lie that the White House has yet to issue an official retraction.
The reality is that the bill standardizes voting hours across the state from 9AM to 5PM, giving each county the possibility of extending the hours to 7AM-7PM. Which is an improvement from the previous regulation that said the polls should only be open during “normal business hours”, which harmed voters in some precints where the staff works half a day.
There were also concerns that the Bill would restrict the timeline for early voting, with activists warning the legislation would prevent black voters from going to vote after church (the famous “Soul to the Polls” initiative). The final form of the bill should ease those concerns, as the legislation codes into state law the need to offer at least two Saturdays for early voting and also gives counties two optional Sundays, actually an improvement from the previous regulations.
The law effectively extends the early voting time period to at least 17 days before the election, by contrast Delaware (the President’s loved home state) does not even have any type of early voting option for its citizens, while New York only begins early voting 10 days before election day, according to vote.org.
If Democrats want to show that Georgia’s bill is a new Jim Crow, then it is certainly not due to the calendar of in-person voting, which the law actually expands.
Absentee ballots: requirements and timeline
Another of the amply touted accusations against the bill is the use of voter ID for verification of absentee ballots and the shortening of the timeframe in which the state sends the ballots, with opponents of the bill arguing that it would suppress the vote of minorities, who tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.
Regarding the ID issue, what the state is asking is for voters to provide their ID number as a way to confirm the validity of the ballot, a more objective value than the convoluted signature-matching process that existed before.
Also, this would not create much of a burden for the voters of Georgia, with Secretary Raffensperger clarifying that almost 97 % of Georgia registered voters have a license number associated with their voter registration, a product of the successful automated voter registration process of Georgia, furthermore, there are studies showing ID laws do not depress voter turnout.
Hence, if most Georgians have the ID number matching their registration and ID laws do not significantly depress voter turnout, is it logical to call it voter suppression?
The state also moves the timeline for county officials to send the absentee ballots from 49 to 29 days before the Election, which is a significant reduction but is not as extreme when compared with other states. With Massachusetts sending its ballots 21 days before the election, Oregon mailing them out 20 days before, and Washington sending them only 18 days before, according to data collected by the National Conference of State Legislature.
The law does prohibit individuals to give water or food to voters within 150 feet of the polling station or 25 feet from anyone standing in line, although it would let poll workers do that. The measure aims to stop undue interference to voters, but some GOP lawmakers have expressed some doubts about the measure. Even if this provision of the bill is debatable, comparing it with Jim Crow is excessive.
Taking power from the Secretary of State
Although concerns about Georgia’s changes on early voting, state ID, and absentee ballots might have been overblown, there are some key measures that are certainly worrying, especially the provisions that strip the Georgia Secretary of State of any effective authority over the State’s electoral process, while also extending the power the state government has over the electoral process.
The law removes the Secretary of State from the State Electoral Board, making him only a “non-voting ex officio member” of the committee, which would now be lead by a “nonpartisan” chairperson who would be elected by the General Assembly via a joint resolution. The new board will also be composed of one commissioner elected from the House, another from the Senate and one assigned to each party. Each member (except the chair) can also be removed from office via a simple majority vote of the chamber that elected him.
This new board would have broader authority over the counties who manage the everyday details of the elections, allowing them to replace up to four local elections superintendents with temporary officials who would have all the power and responsibilities assigned to permanent superintendents.
The concerns over these provisos are reasonable and well-founded, with top GOP Georgia Electoral official Gabriel Sterling (who also opposed Trump’s claims of fraud in Georgia) saying that taking away the power from the Secretary of State was a “bad part of the bill” and New York Times’ Nate Cohn arguing this bill would allow the new commission to remove county election officials and replace them by single individuals who could be political operatives.
Although the bill does lay out a series of requirements that would prevent hardcore partisans to chair the board (the other 4 members appear to not have to follow the same requirements), and it describes a detailed and painstaking process for allowing the intromission of the board in local county electoral affairs, there are concerns that those powers could be abused by politicians from either side.
Georgia’s electoral bill is not perfect and valid criticisms can be levied against it (as with every law in the world) but labelling it as an act of voter suppression, saying they are the spiritual successor of the most hideous voter suppression laws the country has ever seen or spreading outright lies about the content only helps at increasing polarization in an issue where bipartisan agreement is the most vital: election laws, the bedrock of democracy.