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Analysis

Georgia’s Voter Suppression Law

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a wide-ranging bill that targets Black voters with uncanny accuracy.

March 31, 2021
voting
Justin Sullivan/Getty

During the Jim Crow era, laws that looked neut­ral on their face were specific­ally designed to target Black voters. Today, legis­lat­ors across the coun­try are consid­er­ing bills that will have the same effect. Nowhere is this more obvi­ous than in Geor­gia, where last week, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law an omni­bus bill that targets Black voters with uncanny accur­acy. 

It’s now a crime in Geor­gia to give a bottle of water or a snack to people wait­ing in line to vote. We know that in Geor­gia and across the coun­try, hours-long lines to vote are more often in Black and brown communit­ies. Mobile voting (polling sites on wheels that travel to differ­ent set loca­tions) is also now illegal in Geor­gia — a prac­tice that has only been used in Fulton County, which has the largest Black popu­la­tion in the state. Ballot drop boxes must now be located inside early voting sites instead of other conveni­ent loca­tions, and many voters who plan to vote by mail must provide a driver’s license or state ID number. 

These laws will dispro­por­tion­ately harm Black, brown, and Native Amer­ican voters. Legis­lat­ors tried to pass even more oner­ous laws — like canceling vote by mail but preserving it for the segment of the elect­or­ate that tilts white and more conser­vat­ive — but faced a sustained and effect­ive outcry.

“It’s sick,” said Pres­id­ent Biden about the Geor­gia law and the over 253 bills proposed across the coun­try that would make voting harder. 

As I said on NPR’s All Things Considered over the week­end, it’s a great polit­ical clash: a wave of proposed voter suppres­sion in the states, and, with the For the People Act, a wave of proposed voting rights expan­sion at the federal level. If it becomes law, the For the People Act will stop this new wave of voter suppres­sion cold. Congress has the power to stop these modern-day Jim Crow bills before they start. 

Kemp signed his voter suppres­sion bill in front of a paint­ing of a plant­a­tion where more than 100 Black people had been enslaved. The symbol­ism, unnerv­ing and ghastly, is almost too fitting. 

When I test­i­fied before the Senate Commit­tee on Rules and Admin­is­tra­tion in support of the For the People Act last week, I asked this: Will we live up to our best ideals, or our worst? Will we build a multiracial demo­cracy that really repres­ents all people, or will we allow a drive to take place to turn the clock back to cut back on voting rights? 

These are ques­tions Congress must answer — and soon.