Georgia election law prevents African American, Latinx, others from exercising the right to vote
Last Thursday, March 25, 2021, the Republican Georgia governor signed SB202, which changes the state’s election code to prevent a repeat of what occurred in November 2020 and January 2021, when the state voted Democratic for president for the first time in 28 years and for the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2000 by intentionally erecting barriers to the rights of African Americans, Latinx, other persons of color, young persons, and seniors and the disabled to exercise the most precious and fundamental of all rights, the right to vote.
This new rebel Georgia election law would require Georgia voters to provide their driver’s license or state ID number, or a photocopy of another accepted identification if requesting an absentee ballot. The law provides that secure ballot drop boxes can only be placed inside advance voting locations and only accessible when those locations are open, which means voters could not use them during the three days preceding an election or on Election Day — the period when returning an absentee ballot by mail is most risky since it must arrive by 7 p.m. on Election Day to count.
Another provision in the law bans portable polling facilities, like the mobile voting buses. Yet another bars what Fulton County used last cycle, except in emergencies that force a polling precinct to close. Yet another bars third-party groups from sending absentee ballot applications to any voter who has already requested, received or voted a mail ballot. The bill also bans early voting on holidays.
Under the new Georgia law, counties would no longer have the ability to stop counting ballots until they are finished and accelerates the deadline by four days by which counties must complete certification, a change that will most impact the large, metro counties that typically certify on or close to the current deadline.
The new Georgia law reduces the secretary of state to a nonvoting member of the state Elections Board and removes him as the board chair, transferring the authority to select the board chair to the Republican-controlled General Assembly. And then the law authorizes the board to suspend county election superintendents and appoint temporary replacements.
Perhaps the most odious provision of the bill, and the one that most reveals the invidious discrimination motivating it, is Section 33, which makes it a crime for someone who is not an election worker to give food or beverage to any elector waiting in line to vote — even where they had been waiting in line for up to eight hours, as was the case in last summer in some of Georgia’s most Democratic areas.
None of these actions would have survived the preclearance process of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that would be in place except for the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), which struck down the coverage formula in Section 4 of the VRA.
The reactionary law passed in Georgia, along with the 253 bills to restrict or curtail voting rights introduced in 43 states, illustrates the critical importance of Senate passage, and the signing by President Biden, of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the already House-passed H.R. 1, the “For The People Act,” which, among other things, would protect and make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, and increase safeguards against foreign interference.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, introduced as H.R. 4 in the 116th Congress and soon to be reintroduced, responds to current conditions in voting today by restoring the full protections of the original, bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Leading to several states passing sweeping voter suppression laws that disproportionately prevent minorities, the elderly, and the youth from voting.
The legislation provides the tools to address these discriminatory practices and seeks to protect all Americans’ right to vote and creates a new coverage formula that applies to all states and hinges on a finding of repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25 years. States that have repeated and persistent violations will be covered for a period of 10 years, but if they establish a clean record moving forward, they can come out of coverage.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act establishes a targeted process for reviewing voting changes in jurisdictions nationwide, focused on measures that have historically been used to discriminate against voters, such as voter ID requirements or the reduction of multilingual voting materials.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would also allow a federal court to order states or jurisdictions to be covered for results-based violations, where the effect of a particular voting measure (including voter ID laws) is to lead to racial discrimination in voting and to deny citizens their right to vote and allows the attorney general authority to request federal observers be present anywhere in the country where there is a serious threat of racial discrimination in voting.
Finally, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act increases transparency by requiring reasonable public notice for voting changes and revises and tailors the preliminary injunction standard for voting rights actions to recognize that there will be cases where there is a need for immediate preliminary relief.
The For The People Act would usher in a host of changes that protect and revitalize our democracy, including:
- Make Election Day made a federal holiday;
- Provide for automatic registration of eligible voters;
- Require states to provide for same day registration and voting;
- Require universal, no-excuse mail-in voting and prohibiting states from requiring voters casting a ballot by mail to provide identification aside from a signature;
- require states to allow voters to return mail-in ballots to designated drop-off locations or to a polling place during early voting or on Election Day;
- Guaranteed absentee voting rights for individuals with disabilities;
- guarantee federal voting rights for citizens with past felony convictions who have completed any term of incarceration;
- require every provisional ballot to be counted with respect to the contests in which the voter who cast it was eligible to vote (so, for example, a voter who cast their ballot in a precinct where they were ineligible to vote in local contests would still have their vote for statewide office counted;)
- require states to allow at least two weeks of early voting for federal elections (including weekends), for a period of at least ten hours per day, including some early morning and evening hours; and
- direct states to equitably allocate voting systems, poll workers, and other election resources among polling places to ensure a fair and equitable waiting time and that no individual will be required to wait longer than 30 minutes to cast a ballot.
In addition, H.R. 1, the For The People Act would ban several practices that have been used to suppress or minimize the voting power of African Americans, communities of color, and young persons, including:
- establish uniform rules that every state would have to follow when drawing congressional districts, including enhanced protections to make sure the political effectiveness of communities of color is not diluted;
- prohibit mid-decade redistricting as Section 2402, by incorporating the “Coretta Scott King Mid-Decade Redistricting Prohibition Act,” introduced as H.R. 164 by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee;
- prohibit knowing and intentional communication of false and misleading information — including about the time, place, or manner of elections, public endorsements, and the rules governing voter eligibility and voter registration — made with the intent of preventing eligible voters from casting ballots and establishes federal criminal penalties for deceiving or intimidating voters; and
- restricts states from purging eligible voters and outlaws voting caging; and
- prevent states from prohibiting any person from distributing mail-in ballot applications, or from prohibiting election officials from distributing voter registration applications.
Georgia’s thinly disguised but intentionally discriminatory statute, passed by the Georgia Legislature and signed by the Republican governor, seeks a return to the days of Jim Crow and a restoration of the badges and vestiges of slavery. Like the foot soldiers who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the face of evil in their pursuit of the long-denied right to vote, people of goodwill in Georgia and across the nation will not be turned around.
The irony of the Republican governor of Georgia signing this anti-democratic voter suppression law in the Georgia Statehouse, surrounded by eight white male Republican legislators with the painting of a slave plantation as a backdrop, is inescapable. It comes on the 56th anniversary of the rally led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. upon completing the march of 25,000 protesters from Selma to Montgomery, only to be met with the contemptuous refusal of Alabama’s segregationist Gov. George Wallace to receive their petition, which said: ‘We have come not only five days and 50 miles but we have come from three centuries of suffering and hardship. We have come to you, the Governor of Alabama, to declare that we must have our freedom NOW. We must have the right to vote; we must have equal protection of the law and an end to police brutality.’
In the face of the segregationist governor’s refusal to receive the petition, Dr. King stated that ‘We are not about to turn around. We, are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us.’
Dr. King was exactly right and I will be working toward the not distant day when Georgia’s odious law is soundly repudiated in the courts and at the ballot box and H.R. 1, the For The People Act,” and H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights and Advancement Act,” become the law of the land.”
Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat representing the 18th District of Texas, is a senior member of the House Committees on the Judiciary, on Homeland Security and the Budget and the Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.