Earlier this year, Georgia passed Senate Bill 202, more commonly known as The Election Integrity Act of 2021. While this bill was praised by conservatives as being a crucial step in resecuring an electoral system that allowed the 2020 presidential election to be stolen, others claim that this legislature is retaliation for democrats winning the majority in Georgia, and directly attacks the protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While this legislature is known as the Election Integrity Act, it does quite the opposite: it restricts the ability of people to vote. Under claims of helping to strengthen our democracy and electoral system, this legislature, and bills like it are a direct threat to our democracy.
The most prominent changes made in the act are those to absentee voting. It reduces the time frame for requesting absentee ballots from six months before the election to three, tightening the request deadline from 4 days before the election to 11, and bans absentee ballots from being sent without a request. In order to request a ballot, you must provide a state ID number, such as a driver’s license number. Restrictions on ballot drop boxes were extremely restricted, reducing the total number of possible drop boxes in metro Atlanta, and requiring them to be inside a building where access is only available certain hours. Even with the big push towards in person voting, they also made it illegal to hand out food or water to those waiting in line at polling places. (The Washington Post)
While all of these changes may seem like minor inconveniences, they disproportionately affect people in urban areas and people of color. These laws make it harder for those that lack transportation, access to state IDs, and depended on copious options for exercising their constitutional right to vote. The guise of securing a rigged election system, started by claims of election fraud by Donald Trump, is in fact an attempt to choke out the voting rights of the population that gave Democrats the lead in the elections in 2020. “This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end,” Biden said in the statement, noting how the restrictions disproportionately target Black voters, who proved crucial to recent Democratic victories in Georgia (CNN).
The provision on IDs is almost directly aimed at minorities. The biggest problem at hand, is people of color are less likely to interact with institutions that would require the documentation that is now being required to pass an absentee ballot. “Overall, about 3.5% of Georgia’s 7.8 million registered voters are missing a driver’s license or state ID number, according to records obtained from the secretary of state’s office under Georgia’s open records law. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution analyzed the state’s list of voters without ID by comparing it with their registration information, including race, address and voting history. More than half are Black. Most live in large, Democratic-leaning counties. Some are homeless or poor. And roughly 80,000 of them actually may have IDs but their information isn’t yet matched to election data, an issue state election officials are working to correct.” (AJC)
This blatant manipulation of our electoral system has caught the attention of the federal government, who has since launched an investigation into the legality of this new law. “The right to vote is one of the most central rights in our democracy and protecting the right to vote for all Americans is at the core of the Civil Rights Division’s mission,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each eligible citizen can register, cast a ballot, and have that ballot counted free from racial discrimination. Laws adopted with a racially motivated purpose, like Georgia Senate Bill 202, simply have no place in democracy today” (Department of Justice).
Republicans in other states have passed similar laws, such as Texas Senate Bill 1, which is strikingly similar to the aforementioned act in Georgia. This act also adds more identification requirements for absentee votes, puts more restrictions on early voting, bans 24-hour voting locations, and restricts who can help voters with disabilities. This month the Justice Department released a statement that they are filing suit under Section 208 of the Voting Rights Act and Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Examples of legislators cracking down on a “rigged” electoral system continue to pop up across the country.
When learning about democratic erosion, you see examples of countries across the globe and how their democracies have sputtered or even failed, and it feels distant. The more you learn about how this happened, the warning signs, the chaos, and the recovery, it heightens your defenses when it comes guarding the democracy here in America, which would seem redundant in a country built on the principles of democracy. Seeing such a blatant attack on democracy so close to home intensifies my fears and serves as evidence of democratic erosion in our country.