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.