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GAvoting

Shenita Binns of Atlanta, Georgia holds up a sign that reads "We Must Protect Our Vote!" as she and other voting rights activists participate in a protest in Arlington, Virginia on August 6, 2021. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Georgia Republicans Are Deliberately Attacking Voting Rights

Georgia's new restrictions strike at the heart of that Democratic stronghold, especially Black voters.

Steven Harper

When Georgians vote, the consequences reverberate across the nation. With the help of former President Donald Trump's Big Lie, Republicans enacted a voter-suppression law in 2021 that is already working. A recent case study demonstrates its impact.

What happens in Georgia…

Georgia voters helped propel Joseph Biden to the White House. In runoff elections two months later, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff scored victories that delivered control of the Senate to Democrats.

Biden won the state by 12,000 votes, in large part because he carried its four most populous counties in and around Atlanta—Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett—by a combined total of more than 600,000 ballots. In close races, Warnock and Ossoff prevailed in those counties by almost the same margin.

Georgia's new restrictions strike at the heart of that Democratic stronghold, especially Black voters.

The obvious target

More than half of the four Atlanta-area counties' absentee voters—305,000—deposited their ballots in drop boxes. The new law allows only one drop box for every 100,000 active registered voters in a county, reducing the number in the four Atlanta-area counties from 111 to 23.

Fulton County, which Biden won by 240,000 votes, is 44 percent Black. In November 2020, it had 36 drop boxes. Under the new law, it has only eight.

DeKalb County, which Biden won by 250,000 votes, is 55 percent Black. The number of drop boxes went from 35 to five.

Gwinnett County, which Biden won by 75,000 votes, is 30 percent Black. The number of drop boxes went from 24 to five.

Cobb County, which Biden won by 56,000 votes, is 29 percent Black. The number of drop boxes went from 16 to five. The Cobb County elections director called that number so small that they are "no longer useful… The limited numbers mean you cannot deploy them in significant numbers to reach the voting population."

Beyond reducing the number of ballot boxes, the Georgia law restricts their use. For example, Gov. Brian Kemp learned of his exposure to COVID-19 on the Friday before Election Day 2020. He quarantined and requested a mail ballot. The new law that he championed requires voters to make such requests at least 11 days before the election, so his request would have been denied.

Likewise, on Election Day, Gov. Kemp returned his ballot at a drop box. A year later, he couldn't have done that either. The new law requires that the few remaining drop boxes be located inside the clerk's office or early voting location and closed when the early voting period ends—which is before Election Day.

Suppression works

The impact of these new restrictions became apparent in Georgia's November 2021 municipal elections. The absolute numbers were small, but the implications for democracy are enormous. Compared to November 2020, there was a four-fold increase in the rejection rate for absentee ballot applications, according to a study by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Fifty-two percent of rejections occurred because the would-be voter missed the new 11-day pre-election deadline to request a ballot.

But depending on the reason for the rejection, applicants could still reapply or vote in person. On January 28, 2022, Mother Jones' follow-up analysis "zeroed in how many voters never cast a ballot by mail or in person after their mail applications were denied."

The conclusions:

  • "During municipal elections in November [2021], Georgia voters were 45 times more likely to have their mail ballot applications rejected—and ultimately not vote as a result—than in 2020. If that same rejection rate were extrapolated to the 2020 race, more than 38,000 votes would not have been cast in a presidential contest decided by just over 11,000 votes."
  • "In November 2021, Georgians who successfully obtained mail ballots were also twice as likely to have those ballots rejected once they were submitted compared to the previous year. If that were the case in 2020, about 31,000 fewer votes would have been cast in the presidential election."
  • One-sixth of ballot rejections resulted from insufficient ID. Prior to the new law, voters simply had to sign their mail ballot applications. Not anymore. Black voters account for 58 percent of the 154,000 registered voters who do not have an ID on file with the state.

It gets worse

During the 2020 early-voting period, Fulton County used two RVs that brought polling places to churches, parks, and public libraries. More than 11,200 voters used them. The new law eliminates such mobile voting centers (unless the governor declares a state of emergency).

Finally, Georgia's new law gives the newly-constituted state election board—with its three to one Republican majority—new powers over local county election officials, including the power to suspend and replace them. The board began an investigation into Fulton County's management practices that, as the Associated Press reports, "could ultimately lead to a takeover of elections in the state's most populous county." Republicans controlling the state legislature have also reorganized six other county boards through county-specific legislation.

Defenders of Georgia suppression efforts say the new law expands access because it requires a minimum number of drop boxes in rural counties that didn't have them. Most of those areas are Republican strongholds. The law also requires an additional Saturday for early voting. That too increases access in rural counties, which were sometimes short-staffed and therefore limited early voting hours.

Even so, Trump is working on a backup plan. In his ongoing purge of the GOP, he has endorsed loyalists running against incumbent Republicans for secretary of state (Rep. Jody Hice) and governor (former Sen. David Perdue) in the upcoming primary. On January 6, Hice, voted to reject the electoral votes that Biden won in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Perdue says he would not have certified the popular vote outcome in Georgia.

Republicans say that somehow all of this promotes "election integrity." That's doublespeak for attacking democracy itself.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Steven Harper

Steven J. Harper is an attorney, adjunct professor at Northwestern University Law School, and author of several books, including Crossing Hoffa — A Teamster’s Story and The Lawyer Bubble — A Profession in Crisis. He has been a regular columnist for Moyers on Democracy, Dan Rather’s News & Guts, and The American Lawyer.

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