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Democrats in Athens and Nationally Condemn New Georgia Voting Restrictions

Gov. Brian Kemp shakes hands with House Speaker David Ralston after signing a law restricting voting access. Credit: House Media Services

“Our democracy is in a 911 emergency,” Sen. Raphael Warnock declared after Republican legislators pushed through and Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed a law throwing up roadblocks for absentee voting on Thursday—a response to Warnock, Sen. Jon Ossoff and President Biden tipping Georgia blue for the first time in 18 years.

Among other things, the new law requires ID to vote by mail. Republicans previously excluded mail-in ballots from the voter ID law they passed in 2006. It also restricts drop boxes to one per county with fewer than 100,000 voters and prohibits giving food or water to voters waiting in line. On the bright side, it does provide additional opportunities for early voting on weekends.

“Let’s be clear, this bill is just trying to repackage voter suppression tactics as ‘solutions’ to problems that never existed, said Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Tim Denson, the chairman of the ACC Democratic Committee. “Those who supported and voted for this law are carrying on the Jim Crow traditions of voter suppression passed on by George Wallace, Herman Talmadge, Strom Thurmond and Richard Russell.”

Talmadge and Russell were segregationist senators from Georgia who routinely blocked civil rights legislation until the mid-1960s. Today, Republican senators are threatening to use the filibuster once again to block legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. 

Voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, who ran against Kemp in 2018 and may do so again in 2022, similarly called the law “a redux of Jim Crow.” President Joe Biden called it “sick” and “un-American.”

Kemp referenced such attacks when signing the bill. “According to them, if you believe in protecting the security and sanctity of the ballot box, you’re a ‘Jim Crow in a suit and tie,’” he said. “I’ve fought these partisan activists tooth-and-nail for over 10 years to keep our elections secure, accessible, and fair.

“Like before, I’m sure they will threaten to boycott, sue, demonize and team up with their friends in the national media to call me everything in the book. But fighting for free and fair elections is worth all of that and more.”

As Kemp spoke, state troopers arrested state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman, and dragged her out of the Capitol for knocking on the door of the governor’s office.

Voting rights groups quickly filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the law. The fight now also shifts to Congress, where Democrats are debating ending or reforming the filibuster in order to pass voting-rights legislation along party lines.

“I am not about to be stopped or stymied by debates about Senate rules,” Warnock said. “It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the senate while right now here in Georgia they are trying to crush minority rights in society.”

Not only does Senate Bill 202 take Georgia backward, but it is also unnecessary. The ACC Board of Elections passed a resolution opposing the bill on Monday—three days before the legislature passed and Kemp signed it. The resolution noted that Athens’ 51,333 November ballots were counted three times, and no errors were found. Nor did registrars receive any complaints about fraud, malfeasance or impropriety in either November or January. In a sign of the times, that resolution was approved by all four Democratic and nonpartisan members of the board, with Republican appointee Ann Till abstaining. 

Now that SB 202 is law, the locally appointed Board of Elections may no longer have a role to play in overseeing local elections. One provision in the law allows the state to take over local boards of elections.

“This creates a number of conflicts of interest and opens the door for corruption and retaliation from elected officials who are unsuccessful in their re-elections,” Denson said. The goal here, of course, is to make sure that elected officials—at least the Republican ones—are successful in their re-elections.