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What really happened in Georgia. And what's next.
Last week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R), flanked by six white men, sat in front of a portrait of a Georgia slave plantation and signed a new law imposing sweeping voting restrictions for the next election.
The bill is not as extreme as the original proposals, which would have ended no-excuse absentee voting and restricted early voting on weekends for all elections. But it still materially limits voting in Georgia based on nothing but Trump's false claims of voter fraud.
"Significant reforms to our state elections were needed. There’s no doubt there were many alarming issues with how the election was handled, and those problems, understandably, led to a crisis of confidence in the ballot box here in Georgia," Kemp said just after signing the bill. Kemp provided no evidence or examples of "alarming issues" that justified "significant reforms."
Here is some of what the new law does:
Ballot return drop boxes can only be placed inside early voting sites, limiting their utility. Previously, drop boxes located outside were available 24/7. The number of drop boxes is also capped at one per 100,000 residents. This appears motivated by Trump's false claims that drop boxes were subject to fraud.
Providing food or water to someone waiting in line to vote is now a crime. Poll workers can provide water to voters, but they are usually busy with other duties on Election Day.
Voters cannot request an absentee ballot until 77 days before an election. Previously, voters could request a ballot up to 180 days in advance. Ballots will also not be mailed out until three weeks before the election, down from four weeks. So voters have significantly less time to request or return an absentee ballot.
Returning an absentee ballot will now require proof of ID. In 2005, when Republicans in Georgia created no-excuse absentee ballots, they argued that an ID was unnecessary because mail-in ballots were more secure. Trump falsely claimed that people submitted fraudulent absentee ballots.
The legislature is now in control of the State Election Board. Previously the board was chaired by the Secretary of State, an elected position. Now the Secretary of State is a non-voting member, and a majority of the board is appointed by the state legislature. Trump claimed the current Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, was part of a conspiracy against him to steal the election.
That State Election Board can replace local election boards with a single individual. For up to 9 months, that individual would then be empowered with "certifying results, handling polling place changes and hearing challenges to voters' eligibility." Theoretically, this could allow Republicans to control the administration of elections in Democratic strongholds like Fulton County. Trump falsely claimed that election administrators in Democratic counties were corrupt.
As Kemp was signing this bill in a ceremony closed to the public, Georgia Representative Park Cannon (D) knocked on the door. For that, Park was handcuffed, forcibly removed from the building by two officers, and jailed. Georgia law prohibits the arrest of members of the General Assembly during the legislative session, except for treason and felonies. So Park was charged with two felonies for knocking on a door — obstruction of law enforcement and disruption of the General Assembly.
The new law will limit early voting for many Georgians — especially in communities of color
In response to criticism from Biden and others that the Georgia law "Jim Crow for the 21st Century," Kemp claimed that the law he signed expands early voting opportunities.
For many Georgians, including many Black voters, that is not true. For these voters, the bill will restrict early voting in future elections.
What changes does the bill make to early voting? Currently, counties can offer early voting on up to four weekend days — but only one Saturday is mandatory. The new law would require early voting in every county on two Saturdays. Some rural counties currently offer only one day of weekend voting. So in those places, early voting opportunities will increase.
But most of the larger counties in Georgia, including Gwinnett, DeKalb, and Fulton, already offer early voting for the two full weekends. There will be no additional opportunities in these counties, where many of the state's Black voters reside.
In these counties, early voting will be restricted in other ways. First, Fulton County will no longer be able to use mobile voting sites to reduce lines during early voting, as it did in 2020. Those are prohibited by the new law. Second, runoff elections in Georgia will take place only four weeks after Election Day. So, if the new law had been in place, the Senate elections that took place in January 2021 would have been held in early December 2020. Because of the time it takes for counties to set up runoff elections, including creating new ballots, there will not be sufficient time for two weekends of early voting. Under the new law, no weekend early voting is required for runoff elections.
The fight for voting rights in Georgia is not over. Civil rights groups — including the New Georgia Project and Black Voters Matter — have already filed a lawsuit alleging the new law is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, argues that the law's provisions "lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting. Instead, they represent a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult—especially for minority voters."
The lawsuit alleges the law's provisions "not only impose severe and unconstitutional restrictions on the voting rights of all Georgians, but they also disparately impact Black voters and effectively deny them an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates of their choice."
Specifically, the plaintiffs argue the new law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. Biden said that the Justice Department was also considering legal action against the law.
The corporate backlash
On March 3, Popular Information exposed the corporations backing the Georgia legislators behind these voting restrictions. Since then, corporations like Coca-Cola, Delta, Home Depot, Aflac, and UPS have been under intense scrutiny by the state's civil rights community.
That pressure is only intensifying. Coca-Cola, which donated almost $35,000 to the sponsors of the bills since 2018, now faces a call for a boycott of its products. “[If] Coca-Cola wants Black and brown people to drink their product, then they must speak up when our rights, our lives and our very democracy as we know it is under attack,” Bishop Reginald Jackson, who presides over 500 churches in Georgia, said. Coca-Cola, despite publicly championing voting rights before the 2020 election, declined to publicly oppose the legislation, saying it favored a "balanced approach."
Meanwhile, the Major League Baseball Players Association said it is ready to discuss moving the 91st All-Star Game, scheduled to take place in Atlanta in July. Dave Roberts, the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, said he might not agree to manage the National League team if the game is not moved. "I don't know enough about it right now. But when you're restricting -- trying to restrict -- American votes, American citizens, that's alarming to me to hear it," Roberts said.