If your policies are unpopular with most voters, and if your party narrowly lost an election because of a voter surge, and if your own party’s demographics are shrinking, what do you do? Do you change your policies so your party platform is more appealing to more voters? Or do you make it harder for people to vote?
Apparently, if you are among the Republican leadership in Georgia, you make it harder for people to vote.
On Thursday, Georgia Republicans passed restrictive changes to the state election process. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp immediately signed a bill into law that President Joe Biden accurately labeled “outrageous,” “un-American” and “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”
While the law expands access to voting in some ways, such as lengthening times for early voting in the general election, it also erects new unnecessary hurdles. Those wishing to vote absentee must now submit a driver’s license number or other documentation. People without a driver’s license or state ID must submit additional proof of their identity. Drop boxes must be located inside early voting locations and will no longer be placed in other locations convenient to voters, like libraries or other local government buildings. Moreover, the drop boxes will not be available to voters in the last four days of an election, when it’s too late to mail them in time.
The new law also restructures the authority of the State Election Board. Remember when Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger refused to give in to former President Donald Trump’s demand and “find” more Republican ballots? This law essentially demotes Raffensperger from chair of the board to an ex officio member, with the Republican-led legislature selecting the board’s chair. The law also allows the Republican-led legislature to temporarily suspend local election officials pending a formal review of their conduct. To put the matter bluntly, the law allows the Republican-held legislature more control over the ballot-counting in Democratic areas.
The oddest provision is that volunteers will now be prohibited from delivering items like food, water and folding chairs to voters waiting in long lines. In past elections, when voters in largely Democratic areas stood for hours in line to vote, volunteer groups called “line warmers” organized and brought water and other refreshments to people stuck in long lines. These items were handed out to all voters. The justification for outlawing this practice was the potential for abuse (trying to influence voters), but there was never any evidence that line warmers did anything except hand out free water to all voters, never asking questions or electioneering.
Kemp justified the law by saying, “Significant reforms to our state elections were needed. There’s no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled, and those problems, understandably, led to a crisis of confidence.”
The problem is that this “crisis of confidence” was primarily based on the lie that there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. Claims of widespread voter fraud were repeatedly struck down in court and debunked by such Republican loyalists as former Attorney General William Barr. In Georgia, ballots were counted three times, including once by hand, and there was no evidence found of breaches in security or systemic voter fraud at polling places or in absentee ballots.
In November, when it became clear that Republican leaders were spreading a lie about massive voter fraud, elections expert Rick Hasen accurately predicted that even the Republicans who rejected Trump’s lie would nonetheless use the lack of confidence it inspired to “provide a false narrative” and “serve as a predicate for new restrictive voting laws in Republican states.”
Fortunately, there are ways to fight back.
The provisions that make it harder for people to vote and the nonsensical provisions can be overridden by federal legislation. The Constitution specifically gives Congress the power to regulate federal elections: Article I, Section 4 gives it the power to make or alter rules for conducting federal elections. The 14th Amendment and 15th Amendment prevent states from discriminating based on race.
Because so many of these restrictive provisions disproportionally affect minority voters, lawsuits are already being filed challenging the law.
There’s also the chance that this voter suppression law could backfire for Republicans. As we saw in the April primaries, when Republicans in Wisconsin tried to make it harder for people to vote, people don’t like it when they feel their voices are being suppressed. The Wisconsin Republicans faced a backlash from voters, who turned up in massive numbers, viewing the hurdles erected by Republicans as a challenge. As a result, Democrats scored an important win when challenger Jill Karofsky ousted conservative incumbent Daniel Kelly from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
With Republicans intent on making voting harder, Democrats must continue to organize and find ways around the barriers. Georgia already has a well-organized voter support team, Fair Fight, headed by Stacey Abrams. State law allows for the casting of ballots and the tabulation of ballots to be observed by members of both parties. American courts demonstrated in 2020 that, even those with extremely conservative judges, they are not willing to overturn the will of the people in an election. Massive turnout and a clear victory are the best antidotes to attempts to suppress the vote.
Voters in Democratic areas now know they must pack their own water and bring their own folding chairs.
The Republicans are also on notice: Citizens are not likely to vote for the party that passes mean-spirited and anti-democratic laws. In the words of Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman, the Georgia Republicans may have “just handed Democrats their best turnout tool for 2022 & beyond.” After all, when a party outlaws giving water to voters stuck in long lines, what does it say about their values?