On March 25th, The Washington Post published an article titled “Georgia governor signs into law sweeping voting bill that curtails the use of drop boxes and imposes new ID requirements for mail voting”. The article sums up the many new reforms to voting procedures for Georgia elections that have been recently signed into law, which many find controversial. While Georgia governor Brian Kemp states that this new law will “expand voting access in the Peach State,” article authors Amy Gardner and Amy Wong present an argument contrary to the governor’s statement, and instead believe the new law is reminiscent of past Jim Crow policies in the south and is a veiled attempt to serve the Republican party in state government through voter suppression.
Even though widespread voter fraud from the last Georgia election (as well as the presidential run in November) has been debunked, concerns for its prevalence continue to exist amongst state officials – markedly amidst GOP legislators. Republicans like Kemp use the argument of policing voting fraud efforts and attempts for casting false ballots as a primary reason for the necessity of the new voting law. However, the bill’s passage may be a covert attempt for legislators to try and suppress voters. Gardener and Wong present much evidence that indicates the presence of “constitutional retrogression” being enacted in the state of Georgia, pointing to measures in the new law that pose a potential threat to a large number of voters which can serve to unfairly benefit one side over the other.
Not every stipulation of the bill has a negative consequence for voters. The final bill did introduce measures to expand early voting weekend hours, following public outcry after officials proposed its limitation. There is also no limitation on mail-in voting compared to preexisting opportunities. However, the majority of critics, including Wong and Gardner, believe that there will be many more negative consequences on voters from the passage of this bill than there will be positive ones, and that its passage is in reality a form of constitutional retrogression that could unfairly benefit current Republican lawmakers sitting in office in the State of Georgia.
One measure of the new law dictates that local governments are not allowed to accept grants from the private sector. Local governments with less funding will be unable to receive financial aid unless its from a public institution, meaning that there is a chance for some districts to be denied the funding they need to get projects done by other partisan institutions if the district with the funding does not want to support the local government’s policies or projects. For local governments that do not rely heavily on funding from outside donations and receive a decent amount of revenue through federal institutions, this would not affect them, but for those is less privileged communities that do not receive as much revenue from taxes or other federal means, not having the option of accepting third party charity donations to facilitate change in their area could prove to be detrimental.
Another measure dictates that state officials may challenge the legitimacy of any number of voters, and that the challenge must be brought to trial within 10 days of being made. This would make fraudulent voting more difficult due to the higher level of policing and more immediate judiciary thoroughness, however it could also be easily abused. For instance, if the voters of a less affluent party are challenged by their more affluent opponents and must immediately go to trial to defend their legitimacy, there is little time to raise money for attorneys and courtroom proceedings if there is fiscal deficiency present on their side, while the challenging party can hold more confidence in their case due to their financial security.
Perhaps the most controversial measure of the new voting law is the prohibition of third parties being allowed to provide food and water to voters waiting in line at polling stations. There is no clear threat to democracy presented by altruistic deeds, such as non-public organizations attempting to alleviate the droll of waiting in line that often comes with elections, and the provision of basic human needs. The risk of voter fraud from these actions is close to ridiculous, therefore the addition of this measure in the bill seems unnecessary, and makes the argument that the bills purpose may not in fact be purposed to expand voting but instead to diminish it seem much more believable. Voter turnout may diminish due to the more strenuous conditions voters will have to face while waiting to cast their ballots, which may vary depending on the location of their polling centers – a factor that can be easily manipulated by legislatures.
Georgia governor Brian Kemp wants people to believe the bill was passed in order to provide more widespread access to vote across the state, however many of the measures put forth in the bill appear to be more focused on patrolling voting than allowing for more legitimate votes to be cast. But regardless of what the intentions of the governor and GOP legislators of Georgia are, the new bill that has been signed into law poses many threats to the level of democracy in the state, and its passing may unsettlingly encourage other states to pursue the passage of similar bills as well.