Georgia has a long history of racial inequity at the ballot box. Voters wait an average of just six minutes in line after 7pm in precincts where 90% of residents are white. But when 90% of voters are Black? The wait soars to 51 minute.
Tussen 2012 en 2018, Georgia shuttered 8% of all precincts statewide, and moved 40% of them. According to a study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the combination of fewer precincts and longer commutes could have kept as many as 85,000 people from casting a ballot in 2018. This disproportionately burdened Black voters, who were 20% less likely to make it to the polls as a result.
Now Georgia’s GOP legislature has enacted another 92 pages of voting restrictions and regulations that will make voting much more complicated en burdensome. It’s harder to register to vote. It’s more difficult to get a ballot. And it will be tougher to cast it.
The new law cuts the amount of time that voters have to request an absentee ballot in half. It adds additional new voter ID provisions for requesting and casting an absentee ballot; studies show that voters of color are much more likely than white voters to have their ballots disqualified for missing that step.
It limits four of the state’s most populous, and predominantly Black counties, to just 23 drop boxes – down from 94 during the 2020 election – and makes them available only during government office hours, rather than around the clock. Mobile voting centers have been banned. Early voting hours have been sharply curtailed.
The right to vote is the foundation of every right we hold as a citizen. It should be simple for everyone to make their voice heard. That should be the goal of every election. We should be able to register easily, request a ballot without unnecessary complications, and cast that ballot without waiting in long lines or driving long distances. When you limit the ways in which people can vote, you are limiting the number of people who can vote. All of this is common sense. None of it should even be controversial.
The supporters of these provisions suggest that they are necessary because of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election – a baseless assertion for which they are unable to provide any evidence. Or they suggest that they’re needed to restore faith, especially among Republicans, in the legitimacy of our elections. This is especially convoluted, since nothing has done more to damage that sense than month after month of these unfounded “fraud” allegations. It’s also hard to accept these arguments in good faith, since these new voting laws arrive so quickly after an election many of these same lawmakers refuse to admit they lost.
Yet in recent days, as Republicans race to enact similar new restrictions in Texas, Arizona, Florida and elsewhere, many conservative lawmakers have suggested that these tough laws they are so hurriedly passing won’t actually affect turnout at all. Some in the media have shrugged as well, and in a particularly egregious “both sides” framing, have criticized President Biden for being too hyperbolic in calling the Georgia law “Jim Crow on steroids”. The New York Times pointed to political science research that purports little connection between turnout and convenience, en stel voor that the partisan impact of easier mail-in voting is negligible. Those who really want to vote will find a way, some suggest. Others argue that expanded absentee voting makes no real difference, and may have provided Democrats with as little as a 0.2 percentage-point increase in turnout last November.
These arguments fail to understand how voter suppression works, and how it has been used to hold back the Black vote, especially across the south, for decades.
Those who want to keep people from voting can’t rely on fire hoses or crude Jim Crow tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests any longer. They need to modernize Jim Crow, so that he becomes Dr James Crow, a specialist in statistics, expert at layering traps for Black voters while pretending they’re race neutral. Then they raise the barriers for Black voters and other communities of color by demanding the particular forms of ID lawmakers know they’re least likely to have, or assign more voters and fewer machines to some precincts, generating lines just a little bit longer, perhaps carefully positioning other voting centers a few miles away, maybe just too far for convenient public transportation. The intent and the effect are the same: creating restrictions that keep Black voters away from the polls.
This is voter suppression by skimming: discourage some people from voting with longer lines. Knock others off the lists through a roll purge, often after incorrectly determining that voters had moved, and force them to cast a provisional ballot. Pass an ID requirement, dan close the department of motor vehicles offices in Black counties. Make it more difficult for others to get an absentee ballot. Standardize the early voting hours from 9am to 5pm, rather than 7am to 7pm, to make it that much harder for working people. Make fewer drop boxes available, and limit those hours to the workday as well.
Pretty soon all of that adds up. And in Georgia, it doesn’t need to add up to that much to make a major impact.
Na alles, 0.2% in Georgia isn’t statistical noise at all. President Biden defeated Donald Trump in Georgia last November by fewer than 12,000 votes. He earned 49.5% of the vote. Trump captured 49.3. The difference? That’s right: 0.2%.
The then incumbent senator David Perdue fell just 13,470 votes short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff with Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff – a race Perdue would lose nine weeks later, handing Democrats control of the US Senate. The difference between a runoff or a Perdue victory? That’s right: 0.27%.
In 2018, Governor Brian Kemp defeated Stacey Abrams by fewer than 55,000 votes. That’s within the range that the Journal-Constitution study suggested could have been dissuaded by longer commutes to the polls. Kemp’s office – he made the rules for his own race as the state’s then – secretary of state – also reportedly stalled 53,000 voter registration applications ahead of the election; 80% of those belonged to Blacks, Latinos and Asian Americans, according to the Associated Press.
Toe, when activists like Abrams’s Fair Fight and Black Voters Matter redouble their efforts to overcome suppression by working even harder to register and turn out voters, academics and New York Times analysts reach the clueless conclusion that these restrictive efforts don’t really matter, or that they could inspire a backlash that raises Black turnout. Stop, please. Sometimes a runner lugging an extra 10-pound weight might finish ahead of a competitor carrying none at all. That hardly makes the race fair, or the extra burden negligible. It means they had to work harder for the same opportunity.
Just as importantly: voting rights aren’t about partisan outcomes. They’re about fairness and equality for all.
We all deserve the same access to the polls. No matter what hours we work. No matter where we live, or whether our ID is up to date from a recent move. No matter if we want to vote by mail or in-person. Yet almost 56 years after Selma, after the Voting Rights Act, we are still debating whether some citizens in a democracy are second-class. On the simplest of questions, in much of America, we still have so very far to go.