Last week Governor Brian Kemp1 of Georgia signed the “Election Integrity Act of 2021” as part of the opening salvo in the Republican efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, liberals, progressives, and anyone else who isn’t a conservative white man. Among other things this bill:
- Restricts absentee voting to voters over 65, with a disability, in the military or who live overseas;
- Reduces the time that voters can request mail-in ballots from 180 days to 11 weeks;
- Requesting and returning a ballot will also require a driver’s license number or state ID number;
- State and local governments are no longer allowed to send unsolicited applications;
- Caps the number of drop boxes at one per 100,000 active voters or one for every early voting site (whichever is smaller);
- Prohibits rural and urban counties from receiving grant funding from philanthropic outlets such as the Center for Tech and Civic Life; and
- Establishes that the secretary of state will no longer chair the State Election Board, becoming instead a non-voting ex-officio member.
Then, finally, there was the provision that got the most attention because of its extreme pettiness, and that is the one that:
- Prohibits anyone (except poll workers) from handing out water to voters in line, and criminalizes passing out food and water to voters within 150 feet of a polling place or within 25 feet of any voter standing in line.
(Now, to be fair, it must also be pointed out that there are some provisions in the bill that appear to actually strengthen the voting process, such as one that allows local election officials to begin processing (but not tabulating) absentee ballots starting two weeks before the election.)
What is very interesting about all of this is what the Republican legislature cited as their reason for wanting to enact these changes. It was not to combat fraud in the voting process. No, it is “significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems,” with “many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter suppression and many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud.”
It’s right there in their whereas clause, in their statement of legislative intent.
Of course, the bill doesn’t address voter suppression at all. But it sure addresses allegations of voter fraud. Allegations which were put forth by Trump and the Republicans as part of the big lie. So, to recap:
- Republicans sow doubt about the election system with false allegations of voter fraud and the big lie that the election was stolen from Trump;
- Republicans use the doubt that they sowed as the reason for enacting laws that are designed to suppress the vote.
Nice self-supporting feedback loop there.
It’s not just Georgia. As of February 2021, more than 253 bills that would restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states across America.
These bills aren’t just trying to disenfranchise my black and brown brothers and sisters. They’re also trying to disenfranchise me. Because I’m a progressive, and if my friends can’t vote in places like Georgia, then my progressive voice won’t be heard in the federal Congress. And I don’t like that at all.
The Democrats in the federal Congress have, as many of you know, proposed H.R.1, the “For the People Act” as a way to protect against these Republican efforts at voter suppression. (More on that tomorrow.)
- Brian Kemp wouldn’t even be the Governor of Georgia if not for voter suppression. In the closely fought race of 2018, Kemp beat Abrams by 54,723 votes out of 3,902,093 votes cast. In 2017, Kemp, who was then Secretary of State, purged about 560,000 voters off the rolls in Georgia, or about ten times his margin of victory.