Georgia Is How American Democracy Falls Apart
Sep 19, 2021 8 mins, 30 secs
6, Dreyer, a Georgia state representative, had spent most of the last 24 hours in the Georgia World Congress Center watching local officials tally absentee ballots in the two runoff elections that had taken place the day before.

Since his defeat in Georgia in November, President Donald Trump had sought to overturn the state’s election by falsely claiming that the Atlanta area — the most populous, diverse and Democratic region of Georgia — had been home to widespread ballot fraud.

Republicans in 19 states have enacted at least 31 new laws to restrict voting rights and overhaul elections.

Few have done so as aggressively as the Georgia GOP, which rushed through a sweeping 98-page bill to “reform” the state’s election system almost immediately after the Capitol riot.

Georgia Republicans have characterized the law as a vital upgrade that will ensure the security and integrity of its contests; in reality, it is “a breathtaking assertion of partisan power” over the state’s election system.

The law is a two-pronged attack on legitimate elections: It will simultaneously make it harder for many Georgians — especially Black, Latino, Asian and young Georgians — to vote and easier for Republican legislators and their allies to take over election boards and key positions in the counties where those Georgians are likeliest to live. .

In August, Republicans began a process that could allow them to appoint a sympathetic ally to oversee next year’s elections in Fulton County, home to Atlanta and the state’s largest concentration of Democratic voters.

Georgia has always had a large Black population; it has been joined, in recent times, by an influx of Latino and Asian Americans, who now make up nearly 10% and 4.5% of the state’s population, respectively.

The Black, Latino and Asian shares of the electorate have all grown over the last two decades: In 2000, 68% of eligible voters in Georgia were white, a share that had dropped to just 58% by 2019. .

Demographics are not destiny for Democrats, but Georgia progressives and voting rights groups aggressively sought to organize those communities into a unified political force and then to register them and turn them out to vote in droves.

In 2020, that coalition of Black, Latino, Asian American and young voters, along with shifts among suburban, college-educated white voters, produced the seismic results those Georgians had been waiting for, especially in the run-offs. .

we could win and then take our foot off of the gas,” said Nsé Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, a voting rights group Abrams founded.

Less than 60 days after the insurrection, the GOP state legislative majority produced legislation seeking to overhaul Georgia elections.

It no longer allows county officials to mail out ballots unless voters specifically request them, reduces the amount of time voters have to request absentee ballots, effectively bans mobile voting centers, makes it harder for voters to cast provisional ballots if they show up at the wrong polling location and drastically limits the number of drop boxes counties can install to make it easier for voters to return mail-in ballots. .

All of these will disproportionately affect Black voters, in particular: Of the 272,000 Georgians potentially affected by the new ID provisions, more than half are Black, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Black voters will also be targeted by the law’s potentially most drastic assault on the democratic process: the state legislature’s new powers over local election boards, which it is already trying to wield in Atlanta, and that has led to the firings of numerous Black elected officials in other areas with large nonwhite, and overwhelmingly Democratic, populations.

That a multiracial coalition of voters had driven Democratic victories in the South only to be met with attempts to curb their right to vote caused immediate comparisons between the Georgia legislation and racist laws of the past: Activists including Martin Luther King III quickly branded the law “Jim Crow 2.0.”.

In the summer of 1868, Georgia voters, many of them former slaves who were casting ballots for the first time, elected 33 Black men to the state’s General Assembly.

Democrats and the Ku Klux Klan then turned their attention to the Black lawmakers, one-quarter of whom were eventually “killed, threatened, beaten, or jailed,” according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia. The number of Black lawmakers in the Georgia General Assembly dwindled as Democrats implemented poll taxes and other laws to disenfranchise Black voters, along with enacting other measures to segregate every aspect of Georgia society.

In 1908, Georgia voters approved the addition of a literacy test ― literally a requirement that Georgians prove they were literate in order to vote ― to the state’s constitution.

Poll taxes had already systematically removed many Black Georgians — nearly half of the state’s population in 1900 — from the voter rolls.

But few of the Jim Crow laws the Georgia General Assembly enacted from 1870 to 1908 explicitly barred Black Georgians from voting, even if it was clear that that was the intent.

Georgia’s poll tax applied to white and Black voters alike; the idea was that poor, Black Georgians would be unable to pay it.

Many white Georgians also couldn’t meet those criteria, so the amendment included a “grandfather clause” ― which granted the franchise to anyone whose grandfather fought in the Civil War ― to give them a route around the barriers meant to exclude Black Georgians from the state’s elections.

Fulton County, which is 45% Black and 60% nonwhite, and other counties in metro Atlanta already provided more early voting, especially on weekends, than the new requirement; SB 202, as the new Georgia law is known, does virtually nothing to expand access for their residents.

Fulton County alone deployed 37, but the new law restricts counties to just one drop box for every 100,000 voters.

Fulton County officials will now be allowed to use just nine; a metro Atlanta region that had nearly 100 drop boxes in use last year will have a maximum of 23 available to voters in future contests.

Fulton County also deployed two mobile voting centers to make it easier for voters to submit ballots last year: More than 11,000 people utilized the option, which SB 202 bans. .

Republicans, who created the state’s fairly lenient absentee voting program in 2005, never saw a need to add stricter ID requirements or shorten the window in which voters are allowed to request an absentee ballot (the new law trims it by 102 days) until Democrats used mail-in voting to their advantage last year. .

Georgia’s poll tax, adopted in 1877, was extremely successful: In the 1880 presidential election, Georgia was one of just two Southern states in which a majority of Black men did not cast ballots, according to historian J.

Supreme Court majority gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 2013, GOP state legislatures enacted a rash of new voter ID laws and other measures meant to suppress votes from nonwhite communities, but turnout rates among Black voters and other minority groups has continued to rise. .

In 2017, it purged more than 100,000 people from voting rolls because they hadn’t cast ballots in recent elections, a change that ensnared some Georgians who intended to vote in that year’s gubernatorial race.

In addition to its voting changes, the law also altered the makeup of the state board of elections.

If the review determines that county boards have committed serious violations of state election laws, the state board can appoint a temporary superintendent to run the county’s elections. .

The law, in other words, drastically expands the legislative majority’s control over the Georgia board of elections in a way that also gives it more of a say in how certain county election boards are run.

Less than six months after SB 202 became law, Republicans confirmed suspicions about where they’d seek to test those new powers: In August, GOP legislators formally requested that the state board of elections launch a review of Fulton County.

There are issues to address in Fulton County, but Democrats and voting rights groups are more than a little skeptical that the GOP is actually out to fix real problems that still exist.

When 27 members of the state legislature called for the review in early August, they cited the fact that more than 200 Fulton County ballots had been scanned twice during last year’s presidential election.

“This is a naked and shameless attempt to control how elections are conducted in the county with the largest concentration of Black voters,” Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, said.

28, the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, more than 1,000 Georgians gathered outside the church he once led on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta to protest Republican efforts to restrict voting rights

The New Georgia Project and other organizations have redoubled efforts to register and engage voters, and they see this November, when Georgia will hold thousands of municipal elections across the state, as an opportunity to learn how the law will be used and enforced, and to figure out everything they can about “what needs to get constructed so that we don’t completely lose control of this process,” Ufot said

Senate, who are still trying to figure out a path forward on major voting rights and election reform legislation that party leaders say is their priority

Williams and House Democrats have passed two bills, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but the For the People Act has languished in the Senate, where Sen

On the whole, gerrymandering reduces the representation of Black voters at nearly every level of government, from state legislatures to Congress, and SB 202 only exacerbates those problems, albeit not through explicit gerrymandering practices: Its changes to voting rules and the GOP’s efforts to take over control of Fulton County will likely shift even more electoral power away from Georgia’s growing cities and suburbs and toward rural, whiter sections of the state

Manchin’s bill also adopts proposals from separate legislation Warnock introduced earlier this year to make it harder for state legislatures to purge local election officials and take over election boards, a provision that could thwart efforts like the Fulton County review and other attempts to make it easier to overturn elections

If Democrats disarm in the fight over voting rights and elections now, they may not have another chance before it’s too late. 

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