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You’ve likely heard the howls and exhortations from Democrats, like losing gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and losing presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) – even President Joe Biden (“This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century!”) – complaining about the election reform law in Georgia signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) today.
Who is Jim Crow? He was the actor in a 19th-century minstrel show depicting slaves in, shall we say, a very negative and stereotypical way. He came to symbolize the genuine voter suppression laws, predominantly in former confederate states after the Civil War until and even after World War II, malevolently targeted at Black Americans.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about “Jim Crow” in the months ahead. You already have for a very long time.
But what you’ve probably not heard are the facts. What, exactly, is contained in the 32-page Senate Bill 241 that is so terrible? Perhaps we should all read it? First, let’s summarize what is in the bill, courtesy of the Georgia Star News:
• Suspend and temporarily replace election superintendents on the basis of malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, incompetence, or inability to perform duties
• Provide for participation in a multi-state voter registration system
• Allow for the use of portable or movable polling places only under limited conditions
• Require reasons for absentee voting, require identification for requesting an absentee ballot application, and to submit an absentee ballot
• Provide for where to conduct advance voting
• Provide for a witness on absentee ballot envelopes
• Establish a voter intimidation and illegal election activities hotline
Looks pretty good to me; it is a nice start. But it does a few more things that I do and don’t like and a missed an opportunity or two.
I like the fact that it precludes the Secretary of State – the state’s chief elections officer in most states, including Georgia – from entering into “consent agreements.” Brad Raffensberger, the questionably competent Republican Secretary of State in Georgia, entered into two of them with Democrats that many believe violated state law, including “ballot curing.” That’s the ability of a voter to be notified of voting errors on their ballots – especially mail ballots – so they can be “fixed.” And doesn’t include a few things I would like to have seen added, including steps to make sure the state’s voter rolls are up to date as possible, including regular matches with the Social Security Administration’s Death Registry and national change of address registries.
I like the provision that allows the state to take over a county’s incompetent – or worse – administration of an election. Fulton County’s election board, the state’s most populous jurisdiction and home to Atlanta, is notoriously incompetent. Just ask the locals, at least the ones who pay attention. Like Georgia blogger and radio talker Erick Erickson:
The state elections board will be able to takeover County election boards when necessary. This is one of those issues where the Democrats are claiming conspiracy, but it’s actually good.
For example, the Fulton County Board of Elections in Georgia is a highly incompetent Board of Elections. That County has hired and fired the same person over and over. Fulton never gets its act together and it has nothing to do with partisanship. Every election night, we are always waiting on Fulton to finish reporting. They’ll be able to fix this.
What I really like is the provision that requires that the votes be counted nonstop until finished. That reduces the chances for shenanigans. Again, Erick Erickson:
Election workers will be required to count ballots without stopping until they’re finished. This was my idea and I’m taking credit for it. Under current Georgia law, you can stop, go home, come back the next day, and pick up the ballots and hope that there’s no hanky panky overnight while no one’s looking. Under the new law, once you start counting the ballots you cannot stop. To accommodate this, the law allows the processing and counting of absentee ballots before the election. As absentee ballots come in, they will be able to be processed now, which is another good thing. So we’re not waiting days and days and days for the absentee balloting process. This is all a really good idea.
Just to underscore Erick’s comment, jurisdictions should be allowed to begin counting absentee ballots before the election. It will require a little more security on election day, to prevent people from voting twice, but existing systems should be able to handle it. Especially if we discourage prone-to-fraud mail balloting in favor of more secure in-person voting. That was envisioned by both of the Carter (as in Jimmy, former Georgia Governor and 39th President of the United States) Commissions of the early 2000s.
It is also how most of Europe conducts elections, along with India and other democracies. Mail voting is discouraged and even outlawed in most democracies.
What I really like about the bill are the new voter ID requirements for absentee ballots. Instead of the imprecise, subjective process of matching signatures, it requires a driver’s license or official state ID (free to anyone to obtain) number on the outside envelope. That’s a much better way of ensuring voting integrity and eliminating the potential for fraud.
Here’s what I find offensive: that poor, mostly Black Americans are disenfranchised – voter suppression! – because they don’t have, or somehow cannot obtain a driver’s license or free ID card from the state. Think about that. Do you realize how many things you need an ID for in order to function in our society? Do you really think Black Americans (and others) are so stupid that they are unable to obtain even a free state ID card? That strikes me as racist, and reminiscent of the arguments made by southern racists against slaves and their freedom in the 19th century.
What I don’t like is the silly provision denying providing food and beverages to voters waiting in line, and no reference to adding polling locations where long lines typically exist. We need to encourage people to vote in person and must take steps to make it as convenient as possible. Long lines are a deterrent, and they are just as real in the suburbs as they are in some inner-city locations.
We can debate the new law’s restrictions on absentee voting, and the elimination of “no excuse” mail ballots. I’m personally open to it, but it remains a fact that in-person voting is the most secure for making sure your vote counts. Mail voting has a much higher propensity for errors, and of course rejections. It is not hard to figure out why starting with all the “chain of custody” issues involving mail or “dropbox” ballots.
Kudos to Georgia’s legislature and governor. Any miscreant who shouts “Jim Crow!” or accuses such bills as “suppression” is simply wrong and possibly malign in their intentions. Legislation is pending in other states (including Pennsylvania) to address flaws and abuses in their states. We can have good debates about some of these provisions.
At a minimum, we should agree that voter access and voter integrity are not mutually exclusive. We can, must, have both. Can we at least agree on that?Published in