Georgia’s voter suppression bill is a shameful GOP power grab

Bowen Deng ’22

Regardless of your political stance, the 2020 election should be viewed as a celebration of American democracy. Despite the circumstances of the pandemic, the election saw the highest voter turnout in over a hundred years thanks to the expansion of mail-in voting; 66% of eligible voters cast their ballots, with over 158 million total votes cast. Despite the various conspiracy theories of a stolen election, this election was considered the most secure in history by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

     Georgia was a prime example of election integrity last November. After Biden narrowly edged out Trump in the Peach State, Georgia election officials recounted and recertified its ballots two more times. Each recount only affirmed the fact that there was no significant evidence of voter fraud. Biden became the first Democrat to win Georgia since Bill Clinton in 1992. The state’s Senate elections (and their subsequent runoffs) in which Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock triumphed were also unremarkably safe.

     And yet, this reassurance was not enough for the state of Georgia. On March 25, the Georgia state legislature controlled by Republicans signed into law a significant overhaul of Georgia’s election rules. According to Governor Brian Kemp, the goal of the bill is to “ensure elections in Georgia are secure, fair, and accessible.” 

Brian Kemp takes the oath of office becoming the 83rd Governor of the state of Georgia Jan. 14, 2019 at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Following his inauguration, Governor Kemp; Maj. Gen. Joe Jarrard, Georgia’s Adjutant General and Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mark W. McDonough reviewed a formation of Georgia State Patrol Officers and Soldiers, Airmen and Ga, State Defense Force Volunteers. Georgia National Guard photo by Maj. William Carraway.

     Even before examining the contents, the reasoning for this bill is questionable. The Georgia GOP themselves know that the election process in their state was safe; their two recounts and recertifications of the state’s ballots after the election did not produce any significant changes in results. Officials even held multiple press conferences in the weeks following the election to dispute Trump’s election lies; it is simply not true to suggest that the recent elections in Georgia were not secure or fair. 

     If one were to dive into the contents of the herculean 98-page bill, they would soon discover that the guise of election security and accessibility is a blatant lie to cover up a more dishonest ulterior motive.

     Firstly, the bill makes it a crime to hand out food and water to Georgian voters waiting in line. Advocates for the bill insist that this particular provision will prevent last-minute influence on voters before they cast a ballot.

     Rightfully so, this provision has received the most attention and scrutiny. Put bluntly, the claim of election interference in lines is absurd; common sense says that a voter will not change their mind at the last minute simply because they were handed a bottle of water—a basic necessity—by someone while waiting in line to vote. 

     It is already illegal to wear anything political in or near a voting line. In addition, long lines are a problem in the Peach State, most notably in Atlanta and its surrounding cities and suburbs. During the June primaries, some Fulton County voters had to wait two hours in sweltering heat. On the first day of early voting in October, Cobb County voters had to wait over five hours to cast their ballots

     It is crystal clear which voters will be most affected by this provision. Chances are, those living in less populated, rural counties—which often vote Republican—will not have to wait hours upon hours to vote, unlike those in the more populated urban and suburban counties of Georgia, which are often Democratic strongholds. Put simply, not allowing handouts of food and water does nothing to make elections in Georgia more secure or more accessible. In fact, it will only discourage voting in the more populated areas of Georgia.

     Though this section of the bill has received the most coverage, there are other, more outrageous sections that seem to be floating to the side, most notably changes to absentee ballots. The period in which absentee ballots can be requested has been drastically reduced from six months before an election to three. Voter IDs are required in absentee ballots with strict rules. The amount of allowed drop boxes has been drastically reduced, and all drop boxes must be placed indoors. 

     The absentee ballot change simply does not make sense. How does lowering the time frame in which an absentee ballot can be requested curtail voter fraud, or make voting more accessible? It goes without saying that this will make voting less accessible.

     As for voter IDs, this is unnecessary. When you register to vote, your information is verified and kept on record. There is simply no need for repeated proof of the legitimacy of a voter. 

     Then, there is the drop box change. The bill will limit drop boxes to one per early voting site or one per 100,000 registered voters. In the 2020 election, there were 94 drop boxes in the counties of metropolitan Atlanta (Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett). This law would reduce them to 23 drop boxes total. Furthermore, forcing drop boxes to be kept indoors will limit them to business-hour use instead of 24-hour access outdoors—again, another change that makes voting harder and less accessible for the average Atlanta citizen. The vast majority of citizens simply cannot afford to stand in line for hours upon end during working hours, and limiting hours in which ballots can be dropped off will make voting  for these individuals even harder.

     Finally, there are the changes to the runoff system. The length of runoff campaigns has been significantly reduced from nine weeks to four, and early voting in runoffs has been significantly reduced from two to three weeks before the runoff to a single week. Again, this does not make sense in the context of trying to make Georgia’s elections more accessible.

     Still, certain aspects of the bill do expand the window to vote: weekend early voting has been expanded, with two Saturdays required (alongside the option for two Sundays) instead of just one Saturday. Yet, this does not make up for the other changes that limit voting. 

     Ultimately, these provisions paint a clear picture of this bill: it is a panicked, reactionary response by the state Republicans to the state flipping blue at both the presidential and senatorial level. 

Instead of re-evaluating their platform, the Georgia GOP is trying to make it harder to vote.

     Instead of re-evaluating their platform, the Georgia GOP is trying to make it harder to vote. This bill is not an attempt to increase election security or decrease (nonexistent) voter fraud or make voting more fair. 

     No, it is a flagrant attempt by the Georgia GOP to disenfranchise voters indirectly. It is not an attempt to replicate the massive turnout from 2020. No, it is an attempt to decrease turnout to benefit the Republican party’s future chances in Georgia rather than helping their own constituents. The bill clearly targets the more populated, blue areas of Georgia, and seeks to restrict, not expand, their access and ease of voting under the guise of election security, which was not a significant issue in the past election. 

     If the Georgia GOP truly wished to increase voter accessibility, they would be increasing polling places and drop boxes (thus, decreasing the long lines in the Atlanta area) and expanding mail-in voting alongside early voting rather than decreasing the amount of time to request an absentee ballot and limiting drop boxes.