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GOP voter suppression measures are working, despite Democratic wins

Voters fill out forms as they wait in line to cast ballots
Associated Press-Jeff Amy
Voters fill out forms as they wait in line to cast ballots in the last hour of early voting in the Atlanta suburb of Tucker, Ga., on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022. Many Georgia polling places reported a crush of voters on the last day of the state’s early voting period.

The Democrats’ better-than-expected showing in last year’s elections — especially the victory of Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock — suggest that despite all the clamor, new stricter voting laws didn’t have any impact.

That’s wrong.

There’s anecdotal and some empirical data indicating some voter suppression measures achieved their purpose to hold down votes, particularly in minority communities. There are multiple factors in turnout — the candidates, the weather, money — so any precise estimate on the effects of voting restrictions approved by 19 Republican legislatures is not possible.

But listen to the voter suppression advocates. Robert Spindell, a GOP member of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, bragged to fellow Republicans that “we can be especially proud” of the lower turnout in Milwaukee, “with the major reductions happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic” areas.

“That’s a no apology celebration of voter suppression,” notes Ben Wikler, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic party.

A simple question: Why would Republicans enact voting restrictions after 2020 if it wasn’t to hold down votes?

The Brennan Center, a liberal but reliable advocacy group for voting rights, has tried to analyze several elections, using the voter files, and then — if necessary — algorithms for other estimates.

Looking at selective counties in the primaries in Texas, which has exceptionally tough voting laws, Brennan found the rejection rate for both ballot applications and the ballots were higher for Asians, Black and Latinos than white voters. The complexity of the state’s new voting laws created language challenges.

Ground zero in the post-2020 voter suppression was Georgia, after Joe Biden and two Democratic Senate candidates narrowly carried the state. The Republican legislature moved swiftly — under the guise of preventing “voter fraud” — to undo COVID-related rules that made it easier to vote.

The Republicans made it tougher to get an absentee ballot; Democrats voted by mail much more than Republicans in 2020. Republicans made it a crime to offer food or water to voters in long lines, which predominately are in inner cities.

The biggest restriction was to severely limit drop boxes — which were under surveillance, secure, convenient, open 24-7 and used by more than 500,000 Georgians in 2020. The GOP legislature cut the number of allowable drop boxes in the big four and heavily-Democratic Atlanta area counties — Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb — from 107 to 25, and they severely limited the hours and conditions under which those 25 boxes were available to voters.

“The places that now have fewer drop boxes (in 2022) are the areas that used them the most in 2020,” noted Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Steve Fowler. That disproportionately affected minorities and voters with disabilities.

The anti-drop-box movement — Texas and New Hampshire, among others, banned any drop boxes, and the Republican majority on the Wisconsin state supreme court said they were illegal — was doing Trump’s bidding. The former president charged that “drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating, not good for Republicans.”

That, no surprise, is a lie.

Google “drop boxes” and “voter fraud” and you come up virtually empty. In overwhelmingly Republican Utah, drop boxes are widely used; a state election official there estimated for me that there were 295 drop boxes in last year’s election. For perspective, there are fewer people in all of Utah than in those four big Georgia counties — but the predominantly Republican state has eleven times more drop boxes.

In Georgia, Sen. Warnock was reelected, but first, he was forced into a runoff by one of the most pathetic Republican candidates in the country: former football star Herschel Walker. That’s likely attributable to the new voting restrictions. The Brennan Center estimates that although two Black men were competing for the Senate seat and a prominent Black woman, Stacey Abrams, was running for governor, the Black turnout in 2022, compared to the white vote, was down from two years earlier.

That was so even though Warnock was considered an excellent candidate, raised more than $175 million and ran a first-rate campaign.

“Just because we were able to overcome the impediments that were imposed by voting restrictions through legal action, advertising and our campaign’s ground game does not mean there were none,” says Quentin Fulks, Warnock’s campaign manager.

Whether Georgia or elsewhere, the stated rationale is to “prevent fraud” — it’s just that when pressed, they can’t produce any. Ben Ginsburg, who for decades prior to Trump was the most prominent Republican election lawyer in America, suggests voting fraud is the “the Loch Ness Monster of the Republican party … People spend lots of time looking for it, but it doesn’t exist.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The 15th Amendment prohibited discrimination in the right to vote on the basis of race. After Reconstruction, southern segregationists found a new tact, writes Emory University historian Carol Anderson, in a chapter in a fascinating new book, “Myth America.”

Anderson writes: “The operatives and politicians camouflaged their discriminatory intent behind the charge of voter fraud to create the illusion that their primary concern was election integrity and democracy.”

Sound familiar?

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for The Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags ballot drop boxes Black voters claims of 2020 election fraud Donald Trump Election integrity Georgia Georgia Senate race Georgia Senate runoff Georgia voter suppression Georgia voting law Herschel Walker Joe Biden minority voters Raphael Warnock Stacey Abrams Texas trumpism Utah voter fraud allegations voter fraud claims Voter suppression in the United States voter suppression laws voting restrictions

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