Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Georgia Republicans Take Huge Political Hit for Bill That Makes Small Tweaks to State's Election Law

Instead of reading media reports about what the new Georgia election law does, I decided to sit down and actually read the bill.  After my initial review, I decided I needed to read it again.  Given all the fuss being made (the changes have been called "draconian," "Jim Crow" and "shameful" are used to describe it), I figured there must have been something I missed during the first trip through the 98 page bill.  After all, Democrats were screaming that the bill was voter suppression (particularly of minorities), and that as a result of the legislation, thousands of Georgians would be denied the right to vote.

Surely Georgia Democrats would not falsely claim voter suppression to score political points, would they? Oh, wait, Georgia is home to failed gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who in 2018 lost Georgia by five times what Trump did, yet to this day still refuses to concede.  The 2018 Georgia election featured near record mid-term turnout, and record African-American voting.  Yet Abrams continues to peddle her nonsense, without proof, that Republican voter suppression efforts kept her out of the Governor's mansion.  Democrats are right to challenge Republicans when they repeat Trump's BIG LIE that he won the 2020 election. But Democrats should be called out when they refuse to challenge Abrams' BIG LIE.  Both lies, and they are lies, undermine democracy and voters' faith in our elections.

While several media reports have accurately reported the contents of the Georgia election law, provisions in earlier drafts, which arguably were voter suppression, got most of the publicity.  Those included elimination of Sunday early voting and no excuse absentee voting, neither of which was included in the final version of the bill.

Here is a summary of what the new Georgia election law does, with my commentary:

  • Expands weekend early voting.  Previously only one day of weekend early voting was required.  Now counties are required to provide at least two, and counties can also provide two Sundays of early voting if they want.  So the "Souls to the Polls" effort of Atlanta-area African-American churches won't be affected.
  • Creation of drop boxes for ballots.  Georgia law did not previously allow voters to put their completed ballots in a drop box.  In 2020, this was a temporary voter option that was offered via administrative rule due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  It is now codified.  Each county will have at least one drop box, with counties able to add one more for every 100,000 registered voters living in the county.
    ---Democrats complain about the law limiting where these drop boxes will be located and that they will no longer be 24/7.  But the drop boxes need to be in locations and open at times when they can be monitored.   Election officials have learned if they don't monitor the drop boxes, people will deliberately pour liquids or garbage into the drop slot, or even try to light the ballots on fire.  
  • Monitoring voter lines and reducing size of precincts.  The new law requires that the line of voters be monitored and that if the wait to vote is too long, that extra equipment and personnel be provided to the precinct.  The law also provides that heavy turnout precincts be reduced in size so voters don't have to wait so long.
  • Absentee ballot identification.  The new law requires that a voter requesting an absentee ballot provide a driver's license number, the number of his or her state ID (available to Georgia residents for free) or copies of some other permissible ID.  Previously the identification of the voter on the application for the ballot and the ballot focused primarily on matching signatures.
    ---I've long complained the voter signature match is a joke. First, people's signatures change greatly over time.  The election board or some comparable government entity would have to continually update voter signatures. Second, the election workers who are called upon to compare signatures have no training on handwriting analysis, which is a skill that takes substantial training and years of experience to master.  Third, whether a voter signature matches involves an extremely arbitrary judgment which is open to mischief by partisan election workers wanting to disenfranchise voters of the opposite party.  Democrats are going to scream about all the disenfranchised voters who can't come up with an ID, and thus can't vote, but they can never produce more than a handful of such voters at best. 
  • Mailing out absentee ballot applications.  Government officials will no longer be able to mail out absentee voter applications.  Private political organizations can still mail them out, but there is a prohibition on filling out the forms in advance for the voters. And they have to contain a disclaimer that the form is not coming from the government.
  • Voters must be allowed to request an absentee ballot on-line.
  • Prisoners must have access to the internet to apply for an absentee ballot. 
  • Privacy protections for voters voting absentee.  It hasn't gotten a lot of attention, but the new law protects voters casting absentee ballots from being pressured to vote a certain way or otherwise have their vote monitored. 
  • Shortened deadlines for requesting an absentee ballot.  The new law shortens the time for requesting an absentee voter application and makes the deadline earlier.  The idea behind the change is so clerk's office has more time to process the applications so there is not the huge backlog like there has been in the past.
  • Ban on handing out food and water to voters.  What was going on in Georgia was that some candidates and political interest groups politicking with people in line while handing out food and water to those voters.  The Georgia legislature added the food and water restriction to a section of the law which banned candidates and political organizations from engaging with voters while in line to vote.  An argument has ensued as to whether the food and ban applies to just candidates and political organizations or applies to everyone.
    ---I looked closely at the construction of the paragraph in which this ban was inserted.  While I think the legislature may have intended it to be limited to candidates and political organization providing food and water, because of the lack of limiting language and the construction of the provision, the ban almost certainly applies to everyone but poll workers who are explicitly excepted from the law.
  • Run-off elections reduced from 9 to 4 weeks.  The time frame for holding a run-off election in Georgia has been substantially reduced.  The early voting period for run-offs has correspondingly been shortened.  And while it was already Georgia law, the new law makes it clear that only those voters who were eligible to vote in the original general election could vote in the run-off that followed that election.  Military and overseas voters will receive ranked choice ballots in the original general election so as to eliminate their need to do a second ballot in the runoff.
    ---I think reducing the time between the general election and the associated runoff is a good idea.  Better yet would be the expansion of ranked choice voting so that the need for runoff elections are eliminated.  This election I have finally been sold on the merits or rank choice voting.
  • Disclosure and reporting requirements.  The law contains a number of new disclosure and reporting requirements for local officials as it relates to the ballots that are received and counted.
  • Removal of Secretary of State as chair of State Election Board.  A major part of the new Georgia law is aimed at reducing the authority of the Secretary of State over elections.  The major change is that the SOS will no longer be the Chair of the State Election Board, and will only remain on the board as an advisory, non-voting member.  The new chairman of the Election Board will be an appointee of both houses of the Georgia state legislature.
  • Takeover of county election operations.  In case Georgia county election boards are viewed as underperforming, they are subject to take over by state officials.
Contrary to some media accounts and universal Democratic claims, the new law in Georgia isn't going to disenfranchise scores of voters.  In fact, it is doubtful it will reduce turnout at all.  There are also a number of very positive changes in the bill.  

While Democrats complain about how difficult it is to vote in Republican-run Georgia, they ignore the fact that voting in Georgia is much easier than in many Democratic-run states such as New York.  For example, unlike Georgia, New York requires an excuse to vote absentee and limits early voting to just 10 days. For the record, I dislike long early voting periods.

But while the final bill proved to be innocuous and indeed made some needed changes to election law,  Georgia Republicans have already lost.  Democrats, with little evidence, have successfully labeled the law as a Republican-inspired effort to stop people from voting.  While Democrats are wrong on the substance of the bill, they are right that the bill was spawned by those who bought into Trump's lie about a stolen election.

In short, Georgia Republicans aren't going to block or discourage Democratic-leaning voters from voting with the new law, and their decision to push the bill through will be a potent weapon for Democrats to motivate their voters in 2022.   While the law has many good features, pushing it through as a partisan effort in 2021 will prove to be a huge mistake for Georgia Republicans.

OOP's short takes:
  • Read about the FBI investigation of Rep. Matt Gaetz and his alleged 17 year old traveling companion.  I don't know if it's true and Gaetz deserves the presumption of innocence.  But one thing Gaetz has proved beyond doubt is that he is one of the most reprehensible and ignorant members of Congress.  He may not be the worst member, but he definitely ranks in the top 10.

1 comment:

Leon said...

See also, in your crabbed reading universe, what Arizona is up to. If they find what some really smart people think they will find, then you and the running dogs can amuse us as you chase your tails explaining why there is no remedy that you can think of other than to move on.
However, that you would actually read a 98 page bill, let alone twice, speaks to the prestitutes of our media that they are unable or unwilling or unleaded enough to do likewise. Note also, that Democrats do NOT VOTE in favor of discovering their misdeeds, their thefts, their serial lyings. Good news is that a few of them decided not to tarnish their reputations further by stealing a congressional seat in Iowa even thought their corrupt prostitute leader wished to.