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Voter Suppression Efforts in Georgia Are Escalating

The proposed anti-voter bills would disproportionately hurt Black voters, according to Brennan Center analysis.

Published: March 15, 2021

Amid sweep­ing voter suppres­sion efforts across the coun­try, Geor­gia has emerged as a flash­point in recent weeks, intro­du­cing legis­la­tion to elim­in­ate early in-person voting on Sundays and to elim­in­ate no-excuse absentee voting for younger voters, among other meas­ures. The Bren­nan Center has found that these anti-voter bills would dispro­por­tion­ately hurt Black voters.

These efforts in Geor­gia are unfold­ing as state lawmakers across the coun­try advance aggress­ive legis­la­tion that would make it harder to vote — and at break­neck speed, accord­ing to another Bren­nan Center analysis — rais­ing the stakes for Congress to pass federal reforms such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act and For The People Act.

What’s the nature of the restrict­ive voting laws under consid­er­a­tion in Geor­gia?

Myrna Pérez: Geor­gia is a story of chan­ging polit­ical power. In recent years, communit­ies of color in the state have gotten extraordin­ar­ily effect­ive at making their polit­ical voices known at the ballot box. We are seeing politi­cians who feel threatened by those changes and, in response, are attempt­ing to pass a wave of restrict­ive voting laws.

One example is a bill that would limit no-excuse absentee voting — a program that has been in place in Geor­gia for more than a decade and was tradi­tion­ally very popu­lar with white and Repub­lican voters in the state. But in 2020, the racial dispar­ity in its usage shrunk signi­fic­antly. In response, there are now multiple efforts attempt­ing to end the use of no-excuse absent ballots in Geor­gia. And of course, these limits are being targeted in a way that will dispro­por­tion­ately hurt voters of color.

Another restric­tion that is getting a lot of notori­ety is the cutting back or elim­in­a­tion of Sunday voting. Sunday is a popu­lar day for churches, espe­cially Black churches, to ensure that their parish members or congreg­ants are able to get to the voting booth through programs affec­tion­ately called “souls to the polls.”  These programs are clearly effect­ive and turn­ing out voters because people are trying to thwart them. But there isn’t an elec­tion secur­ity, integ­rity, or accur­acy rationale for telling people that they can’t vote on Sunday.

What has the Bren­nan Centers research found about the history of long lines at the polls in Geor­gia?

Pérez: We analyzed the 2018 elec­tion and found that voters of color had to wait longer in line at the polls. Addi­tion­ally, communit­ies under­go­ing rapid demo­graphic changes had fewer resources per voter at the polls. In other words, there was a fail­ure of juris­dic­tions to catch up with what their elect­or­ate looked like. We saw this in really stark meas­ures when we saw long lines during the 2020 pres­id­en­tial primar­ies, much of which took place during the Covid-19 pandemic. A long line might discour­age or disen­fran­chise voters during a normal elec­tion, but it can be deadly during a pandemic that involves a virus trans­mit­ted by air. 

Vari­ous factors contrib­ute to long lines at polling places. Certainly, voter suppres­sion efforts like the ones we’re seeing in Geor­gia — such as attempts to impose restric­tions that cut back on early voting days or force more people to go to the polls on Elec­tion Day — are only going to exacer­bate the prob­lem. That’s why the proposed ban on provid­ing modest snacks and drinks to people wait­ing in line is such a dig to voting rights groups.

How do the proposed voting restric­tions build on and perpetu­ate the myth of voter fraud?

Pérez: We are seeing politi­cians continue to propag­ate the Big Lie that there was wide­spread voter fraud during the Novem­ber 2020 elec­tion. It’s clear that some politi­cians in Geor­gia would prefer to manip­u­late the rules of the game — so that some voters can parti­cip­ate and some voters can’t — rather than to compete for votes. And that is back­wards. Voters should be choos­ing their politi­cians, not the other way around.

What we actu­ally saw in Geor­gia during the 2020 elec­tion was massive turnout under really trying condi­tions. Geor­gia voters said in a very clear voice that they cared about their right to vote, and that they were going to exer­cise it. And the reac­tion to that reflec­ted much of the rhet­oric that inspired the viol­ent insur­rec­tion that we saw earlier in the year. It’s a terrible feed­back loop, where the same politi­cians who were under­min­ing our elect­oral system are now push­ing for restrict­ive voting laws, based on the justi­fic­a­tion that people don’t trust that system. But voters lose faith and trust in the system when they see politi­cians manip­u­lat­ing it to keep them­selves in power.

How might federal reforms address the voter suppres­sion efforts were seeing in states like Geor­gia? 

Pérez: There are two import­ant federal pieces of legis­la­tion that need to be part of the discus­sion. One is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act, which would help protect voters from racial discrim­in­a­tion and vote suppres­sion by restor­ing and strength­en­ing the protec­tions of the Voting Rights Act. Addi­tion­ally, the For The People Act (H.R. 1 in the House and S. 1 in the Senate), which deals with a lot of nuts-and-bolts elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion issues, sets a minimum floor for access to federal elec­tions for Amer­ic­ans, irre­spect­ive of what state they live in. If enacted, it would make voting more access­ible.