Georgia Democratic State Senator Jen Jordan—GA’s New Election Law’s “Like the Christmas Tree of Goodies for Voter Suppression” April 1, 2021
The GOP has noticed the obvious—there are more Democrats than Republicans, and when “Team Blue” votes in droves, their candidates and policies win. So how does “Team Red” address this problem? Push its hard-right conservative ideology 48/7 which has a limited appeal? No. Instead, the GOP plans to limit or suppress the Democratic voting base.
You’d think that voter suppression had vanished after the violence in Selma, Alabama that led to the 1965 passage of the landmark Voting Rights Bill. No way. The South, once dominated by segregationist Dixiecrats, is now ruled by similar reactionary Republicans. These Republicans were voted into power by Southern whites who resented the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of the 1960’s. These “Southern-fried” GOPers now have a new ally. None other than SCOTUS, the Supreme Court of the United States. SCOTUS, under conservative Chief Justice (CJ) Roberts wrongly believes that the U.S. has “changed” since 1965, and it would be “unfair” to continue to penalize the South for past sins. In its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision, SCOTUS, in a 5-4 ruling, gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act Section 4 key provision. That provision required nine states with a history of discrimination, including GA, to seek approval or pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department before changing electoral policies (cnn.com, Biskupic, J. 3/27/21, Cohen, A., “Supreme Inequality,” 2020). CJ Roberts pointed to the fact that there was less discrimination in voting and high voter turnout among people in the South. In a strong dissent, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by three other Justices, stated that Section 4’s preclearance clause was what prevented this voting discrimination. In her memorable words, “Throwing out preclearance is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet (Cohen, “Supreme Inequality”).” The torrential rainstorms in the South and elsewhere where GOPers dominate state politics have now started rolling in.
According to UC Irvine Professor Richard Hasen, “the signal the (Shelby) conservatives on the court have sent is that they are willing to tolerate a lot of partisanship in how elections are run (Biskupic, cnn.com, 3/27/21).” In order to eliminate a problem that does not exist, “voter fraud,” the GOP, with the Shelby County decision’s blessing, has decided to pass throughout the country strong restrictions on voter rights. According to NY University’s Brennan Center for Justice, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills, with restrictive voting provisions in key battleground states. These states include AZ, MI, and FL, and GA (cnn.com, Mena, Schouten, et al, 3/25/21). “Voter fraud” remains a cover for keeping Democrats, especially blacks, other people of color, and lower middle-class people from voting. If these groups don’t vote in droves, as they did in 2020, Democrats won’t be able to get strong turnouts to overpower GOP voters in future congressional, senatorial, and presidential elections. On 3/25/2021, GA passed SB 202, a sweeping elections overhaul bill that made it the first battleground state to enact new draconian voting restrictions following Joe Biden’s 11,779 11/03/2020 vote GA victory. Biden was the first Democrat to win GA’s presidential electoral votes since Bill Clinton in 1992. This voter suppression bill also followed the 1/05/2021 surprise U.S. Senate run-off wins by Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Ossoff and Warnock’s victories flipped control of the Senate to the Democrats. Ossoff won by 54,944 votes and Warnock by 93,272 votes (cnn.com, Mena, et al, 3/25/21, cnn.com, Kirkland, Gallagher, et al, 3/26/21, politico.com, 1/06/21, nbc.com, 2/03/21). This voter suppression bill was quickly passed by both GOP-dominated chambers of the GA state legislature. It passed by a 34-20 vote in the GA Senate and a 100-75 vote in the GA House. This legislation was quickly signed by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp, remember, won his 2018 gubernatorial race against voter activist/legislator Stacey Abrams by a 1% margin. Kemp was accused of purging an estimated 53,000 voters from the rolls, many of them black, before his first win. He plans to run for re-election in 2022 (Cohen & Cook 2020 Political Almanac, huffpost.com, Visser, 3/25/21).
When he signed this voter suppression bill, Gov. Kemp called the law’s changes “another step toward making GA’s elections fair, after the ‘alarming 2020 election issues (cnn.com, Mena et al, 3/25/21).’” Gov. Kemp, there were no “alarming 2020 election issues.” There was no voter fraud in GA’s elections and the state went through several hand and machine recounts that confirmed Biden’s nearly 12,000 vote victory (huffpost.com, Visser, 3/25/21). The only “problem” with the 2020 GA elections was that blacks voted 88% for Biden and for Ossoff and Warnock by 92% in the run-offs. In the general election, a record 1.3 million GA voters, more than 25% of the electorate, cast absentee ballots. A greater share of black Georgians than whites cast their ballots remotely (cnn.com, Schouten, 3/26/21). In “GOP World,” the term “fair elections” means only “Team Red” wins. GOPers will do anything to suppress key Democratic voting groups, especially black voters.
As GA lawmakers prepared to vote on this nearly 100-page bill, Democratic State Senator Jen Jordan declared on the GA Senate floor, “It’s like the Christmas tree of goodies for voter suppression (Mena, Schouten, et al, cnn.com, 3/25/21).” And here are the super-Christmas tree ornaments of voter suppression contained in this bill which President Biden called an “atrocity (Mena, Schouten, et al, cnn.com, 3/25/21, Schouten, cnn.com, 3/26/21).”
The new law aims hard at absentee ballots which, as was previously mentioned, a greater share of blacks cast than whites in 2020. The law does away with signature matching to identify voters who cast absentee ballots. Instead, voters requesting absentee ballots will now have to provide the number of their GA driver’s license or state identification, along with other identifying information such as their date of birth. Those who lack these forms can submit copies of other paperwork, such as a copy of a bank statement or current utility bill. State figures show that about 200,000 Georgians lack a driver’s license or state identification card. According to groups suing in court against this law, black voters are less likely to have the identification now required than other voters (cnn.com, Schouten, 3/26/21). Much of the work administering GA elections is handled by that state’s 159 counties. This new law gives GA’s GOP State-controlled Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices to remove and replace local election board officials. This law could, therefore, allow the state GOP board to have more influence over certifying county election results. GOP officials could easily intervene in heavily Democratic Fulton County where most of Atlanta is located. This law allows that GOP board to intervene in up to four counties at a time, (no doubt other key Democratic ones), and install a temporary superintendent who can hire and fire personnel, including election directors and poll officers (latimes.com, Nadler & Amy, AP, 3/26/21). In Fulton County, with a 45% African American population, RV-sized mobile voting units were used to encourage early voting and reduce long Election Day lines. This law bars their use (cnn.com, Schouten, 3/26/21). Provisional ballots, or ballots cast at the wrong precinct but in the right county, used to be counted. The new law tosses out all out-of-precinct votes cast before 5 PM, which greatly hurts blacks who often move frequently (cnn.com, 3/26/21).
The law now requires officials to house drop boxes for absentee ballots inside early voting locations, which limits their usefulness. The law specifies that early voting hours must run from 9AM to 5PM, but gives county registrars the “flexibility” to extend hours to 7 AM and 7 PM. Black voters work multiple jobs and this time frame, if arbitrarily not extended in heavily black areas, can hurt black early voting. Even worse, this new law says any Georgian can challenge the voting eligibility of an unlimited number of voters, which makes it easier for conservative groups to purge large numbers of blacks. The law ads a provision that allows the State (“Red”) Elections Board to sanction counties that refuse to comply with the provision allowing unlimited challenges (cnn.com, Schouten, 3/26/21). Because Democrats Ossoff and Warnock had the “nerve” to win a run-off that lasted for nine weeks, this new GOP bill cuts the usual run-off time to just four weeks. The four-week time means less time for early and mail in voting. Fewer people in mainly minority districts will hear that there is a crucial run-off race in which they can vote, so Democratic turnout will drop (See latimes.com, Nadler & Amy, AP, 3/26/29). And most disgusting and cruel of all, it’s now illegal for people to hand out food and water to people standing in line to vote (cnn.com, Karimi, 3/26/21). And of course, GA makes sure that non-whites have to wait the longest to vote. The average wait time after GA’s 7PM poll closing was 51 minutes where non-whites were 90% of the voters, v. 6 minutes for 90% white precincts (ProPublica, cnn.com, Schouten, 3/26/21). On all election days in GA, there are similar long wait lines in black precincts all day (See latimes, Nadler & Amy, AP, 3/26/21). GOP Trump loyalist, GA’s Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger, wanted to crack down on what he calls “line warming,” or “handing gifts” to voters in line (cnn.com, Karimi, 3/26/21). A “gift?” Get real! People in long lines, deliberately created by the ruling white GOP, might leave if they can’t get food or water. It’s no gift or bribe. Rev. Tim McDonald, an influential African American pastor in Atlanta, stated, “We will make a movement out of that. You know something is wrong when you can’t give grandma a bottle of water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (cnn.com, Karimi, 3/26/21).”
Civil rights and voting rights groups filed three federal lawsuits to challenge this repressive law (cnn.com, 3/29/21). Sports groups are discussing boycotting GA, if this law is not repealed (See cnn.com, 3/29/21, Ax, reuters.com, 3/30/21). President Biden called the GA law, “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and said the Justice Dept. is “taking a look at this measure (cnn.com, Sullivan & Vasquez, 3/26/21).” Biden backs moving the baseball All Star Game from Atlanta as well (nytimes.com, Kanno-Youngs, 4/01/21).
Many college -educated suburban GA whites, the group in the Atlanta area along with blacks that helped tip GA to Biden and give Ossoff and Warnock run-off victories, also oppose this Jim Crow 2.0 bill. Jen Jordan, who correctly called this bill a “Christmas tree of goodies for voter suppression” is part of that group. Jordan (46), received her law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law (sen.ga.gov, Nigut, cpa.ds.npr.org, 3/10/20). After clerking for a federal judge, she practiced privately (votesmart.org/biography/jen-jordan). In 12/2017, Jordan won a run-off election. After the Trump- inspired 1/06/2021 coup in D.C., State Sen. Jordan filed a resolution condemning the riots. She called for GOP senators to be held accountable. Sen. Jordan also opposed a GA bill that would have prevented doctors from performing abortions beyond the first heartbeat of a fetus, because of the effect it would have on women and their physicians (Willis, cobbcountycourier.com, northwestgeorgianews.com, atlantamagazine.com).
The only way to stop these anti-minority GOP bills throughout the country is to have the Senate enact, as President Biden stated, the federal voting rights bill the House passed. U.S. Sens. Manchin (D-WVA) and Sinema (D-AZ) must get behind abolishing the Jim Crow-tainted filibuster or weakening it so we can have a “more perfect Union.”