How Activists Are Fighting Georgia's New Jim Crow Laws
It's worse than you realize
|Jordan Zakarin||Mar 28||4|
Welcome to the big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
The nascent optimism that grows with each Covid vaccine administered was countered this week with a number of truly American tragedies and outrages. Another deadly mass shooting, another wave of racist voter suppression, another trip to the border by cynical politicians hoping to exploit a humanitarian crisis… I’ve written several high-minded, uplifting, and political speech-worthy that could follow that last sentence, but honestly, my message and mindset are simple: Let’s keep fighting against the cruel assholes so we can make people’s lives better.
Given all that happened this past week, there’s lots to cover today, including:
An expert-led deep dive into Georgia’s voter suppression law
Legislature shenanigans in Michigan, Missouri, and other places
And yes, some good news!
But first, thank you to our latest crowdfunding donors: Glorida, Kristine, Peter, Steven, Brian, Iris, Daniel!
Suppression By a Thousand Cuts in Georgia
Republicans in Georgia, sore after losing three major elections, terrified of the state’s shifting demographics, and fueled by deep-seated nihilism and racism, finally enacted this past week a broad set of new voting regulations designed explicitly to make it harder for people of color and poor people to vote.
SB 202, as the bill is officially known, did not wind up outright banning Georgians from no-excuse absentee voting, nor did it shut down Sunday early voting (at least not during November general elections). Those two big-ticket items were kept out of the final bill by activists across the state, but the law as passed is still loaded with robust anti-democratic measures and limitations.
Some of those limitations have already made the headlines and drawn broad condemnation — the ban on giving water to voters waiting in long lines, in particular, stands out for its overt cruelty and obvious targets. There are plenty of others, though, that will have a far greater impact on election turnout; you just need to know where to look and what they mean.
The Ban on Mobile Voting
Chief Justice John Roberts justified his decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in 2013 by asserting that things had “dramatically changed” in the south since the heyday of Jim Crow, thereby rendering the preclearance requirement obsolete. Southern states immediately began proving Roberts wrong, giddily closing over 1200 polling places in less than a decade. I doubt he was all that upset to have his words discredited.
Georgia, under the leadership of Brian Kemp, who served as secretary of state before being elected governor, has led the way, shutting down more than 200 of its polling places even as over two million people were added to the voter rolls. As you can probably guess, a very disproportionate number of those closed polling places were in more urban counties, where a majority of Georgia’s Black voters live.
These nine counties are home to just about 50% of the state’s voters but have just 38% of the voting locations. It was even more disproportionate during the January Senate run-off elections, as a number of these counties, including Cobb County, shut down additional polling places, which were again predominantly in Black neighborhoods.
As a way to alleviate some of the egregiously long wait times for voters, Fulton County, home to Atlanta, got permission a few years ago to run two mobile voting sites, which each had eight to ten voting stations. Two busses circled the city for weeks and weeks before an election, often stopping at churches and community centers, allowing voters to walk up and cast their ballots. They drastically shortening the wait time many faced, and now, those busses have been all but taken off the streets.
“Fulton County is the only county that uses mobile buses and now there must be a specified emergency declared for a mobile voting bus to even be considered,” explains Aklima Khondoker, the head of the Georgia chapter of All Voting Is Local. “The emergency has to be a risk to health and safety, declared by the governor. And then if a county is allowed to consider that, then they still have to have that bus tethered to a previously closed early voting location. So you can't just have an open voting bus available to ease the pressure off voters and help county election workers.”
As it stands, it’s unlikely that Gov. Kemp, who gained a national profile for his prolific — and very often racist and inaccurate — voter purges, will be all that interested in declaring many emergencies.
Boxing Up the Drop Boxes
Voting by mail is another important antidote to polling place congestion, which made it a natural target for the GOP. Instead of just demolishing it in one fell swoop, Republican legislators instead took the death by 1000 cuts approach, undermining vote-by-mail to the point that far fewer voters will want or be able to use it.
Ballot drop boxes were implemented last spring during the pandemic when the state Election Board voted unanimously to approve them on a temporary basis. SB 202 codified their ongoing existence into law, but severely curtailed their numbers and utility in — yep, you guessed it — bluer counties that have more minority voters.
Election experts recommend that jurisdictions install one drop box per 10,000 registered voters; SB 202 limits them to one drop box per 100,000 voters or one per early voting site, whichever is lower. And whereas drop boxes used to be publicly accessible 24 hours a day, they’re now required to be stuck inside early voting sites, which operate on limited days and hours.
“Drop boxes provided an alternative for people who do not have an early vote site, who may not have the money to pay for a stamp, or may not have access to a mailbox or a US Postal Service,” Khondoker says. “So a free-standing drop box is a free and secure alternative to not having that early vote site, as most of the closures that we've seen have been in black and brown communities.”
Hobbling the Mail-In Vote
Sending a ballot in just got harder, as well.
The drastic slowdown of the USPS mail delivery last summer and fall meant that people in other states often received their absentee ballots later than expected, prompting them to use drop boxes instead of taking the risk that their filled-in ballot might not return in time for the Election Day deadline.
Georgia mitigated that risk by allowing voters to request a ballot up to 180 days before Election Day, a provision that the legislature just cut by three-quarters. Now, voters can request a ballot beginning just 45 days before an election — if they have the required paperwork, which represents another onerous provision in the law.
Whereas mail ballot requests were once authenticated by signature verification, which is considered the gold standard, SB 202 created a new ID requirement that demands the final four numbers of a driver’s license or another state ID.
For many people, that doesn’t seem like a problem, but as Khondoker points out, Georgia is largely rural outside the Atlanta metro area, making DMVs far less accessible to many people. And while drivers’ license ID numbers can be swapped out for photocopies of a few other designated forms of identification, that is its own burden and form of poll tax.
“Georgia took six different kinds of ID because there was an understanding that not everybody has a driver's license — if you're a member of a tribal community, perhaps you just have that tribal ID, and if you’re a student, maybe you just have a student ID, and both of those are an acceptable form of identification to vote [in person],” she says. “This ostensibly pushes you out of the process that makes it easier for you to request your ballot. Now you are required to have a scanner, a photocopier, or some other electronic means to justify your requesting your ballot.”
Hijacking the Election Board
Drop boxes were approved by a unanimous vote of the State Election Board, which was controlled by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. He’s no great friend to voting rights, but Raffensperger’s willingness to stand up to Donald Trump’s desperate fading mob boss demand that he find over 12,000 votes and flip the state red made him a brief hero to liberals and one of the more reasonable Republicans in Georgia. It also made him enemy number one of the cuckoo MAGA-heads that dominate the state legislature, who used SB 202 to strip him of his chairmanship of the state Board (among other indignities).
Now, the legislature will choose the chair of the State Election Board, who will operate without judicial oversight. The State Election Board chair can hire and fire election superintendents, who make a majority of the decisions in counties, including where and how many precincts and polling sites there are in each election.
The legislature will be permitted to seize control of local county election boards, too, theoretically providing far-right partisans almost total power over the particulars of any local election.
This will make it far more inviting to challenge ballots, which just so happens to now be permitted on an unlimited basis. Remember those whack jobs screaming at harassing vote counters and election workers last year during the recount? Get ready for a lot more of that. And if a Democrat does win, there’s a chance they won’t certify the election, either.
So Now What?
Ubiquitous voting rights lawyer Marc Elias filed a lawsuit almost immediately after Gov. Brian Kemp signed the voter suppression bill into law beneath a painting of the kind of antebellum slave plantation that represents the state GOP’s idealized past. Elias, suing on behalf of the New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and the student group Rise Inc., did not hold back throughout the complaint.
“These provisions lack any justification for their burdensome and discriminatory effects on voting,” he wrote. “Instead, they represent a hodgepodge of unnecessary restrictions that target almost every aspect of the voting process but serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult—especially for minority voters.”
There will undoubtedly be other lawsuits, as well, given the law’s sheer number of discriminatory measures against Black, brown, and disabled Georgians. But as Khondoker puts it, “the wheels of justice turn really slowly,” and while groups will also be seeking a more immediate injunction against the implementation of the law’s provisions, they’re not only going to rely on the courts.
Instead, just as it’s been for the past decade, it’ll be grassroots voting rights and civil rights groups that will be leading the cause. All Voting Is Local, the New Georgia Project, and the ACLU together run a project called the Georgia Peanut Gallery, which trains volunteers to get involved with and keep their eyes on local boards of election. That work will be more important than ever as counties begin to implement the vast array of new requirements and standards included in SB 202. It’s particularly crucial in Fulton County, the state’s most populous, ahead of Atlanta’s mayoral election in September.
“We are hosting volunteer training along with Fair Fight, who's actually going to recruit some of their volunteers to help us in this initiative,” Khondoker explains. “We need to get more eyes and ears across all 159 counties so that we understand what these counties are facing so we can provide them with support. We can make sure that our counties are prepared.”
With the specter of state legislative takeover and unlimited ballot challenges hanging over them, training and preparation are more important than ever… at least until Democrats in the US Senate pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with the majority delivered to them by these very same Georgia activists.
Important News You Need to Know
Here are a few stories from around the country — I deliver longer coverage of more news, keep up on these stories, and publish interviews throughout the week in the issues sent out to premium members!
New York: After the state repealed the law that made police records inaccessible to citizens last summer, New York City made history last week by becoming the first major city to end “qualified immunity” protections for police officers.
Qualified immunity basically grants cops immunity from being sued for committing crimes against people while on the job, which has both emboldened the NYPD for decades and made it almost impossible for victims to attain any kind of justice. Here’s an explanation from the New York City Council, which voted on the matter on Thursday:
Together, the State and federal versions of qualified immunity have effectively prevented countless victims of police brutality and their families from obtaining financial damages and holding officers and the cities that employ them accountable.
The Council’s legislation would end qualified immunity for police officers in New York City by creating a new local civil right protecting New Yorkers against unreasonable search and seizures and against excessive force and ban the use of qualified immunity, or substantially equivalent immunities, as a defense.
Baltimore: In another big criminal justice reform win on the northeastern corridor, the State’s Attorney for Baltimore announced that she would make permanent the decision to not prosecute drug possession, prostitution, and other low-level crimes. The change was first prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ravaged jails, and it’s gone so well that there’s no reason to go back to a more carceral system.
In Baltimore, nearly all categories of crime have since declined, confirming to Mosby what she and criminal justice experts have argued for years: Crackdowns on quality-of-life crimes are not necessary for stopping more serious crime.
In the 12 months since she ordered scaled-back enforcement, violent crime is down 20 percent and property crime has declined 36 percent, she said. Homicides inched down, though Baltimore still has one of the highest homicide rates among cities nationwide. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found sharp reductions in calls to police complaining about drugs and prostitution, she said.
Being arrested is crazy expensive and disruptive, which only begets more serious crimes.
Texas: He’s a deeply cynical hack and his effort to exploit the desperation and suffering of young migrants deserves nothing bug scorn… which is why I feel more than okay laughing at this photo of Ted Cruz at the border and using it in endless memes and social posts going forward:
The idea that Ted Cruz is entitled to the full suite of benefits that come with living in the United States while innocent children who have braved unspeakable hardship should be barred from a modicum of relief is a concept I will never compute or accept.
Missouri: It was a big deal last year when voters in Missouri approved a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid, even though the GOP tried to sabotage it by sticking during a low-turnout August election. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen time and again, Republicans no longer respect democracy and they’ve never really been into implementing the will of voters in ballot initiatives, and Missouri Republicans are proving no different.
On Thursday, GOP legislators blocked a bill that would fund the voter-approved Medicaid expansion from reaching the floor of the state House. Instead of giving some specious argument about process, they basically straight-up just said they didn’t want to give 230,000 low-income Missourians health care.
“Rural Missouri said no,” said Rep. Sara Walsh, a rural Republican, said. “I don’t believe it is the will of the people to bankrupt our state.”
Apparently, only the voices of rural voters in Missouri, which has two major cities in St. Louis and Kansas City, actually count. (A third of rural voters said yes to the initiative, by the way.) It’s a cruel, racist, and flatly fascist stance to take, especially when you look at the barbaric terms of Missouri’s current Medicaid program:
Missouri’s Medicaid program does not currently cover most adults without children. Only the disabled, children and parents with incomes under 18% of federal poverty level — less than $5,800 a year for a family of four — are eligible. It is one of the lowest eligibility thresholds in the nation. The expansion will allow adults earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level to be covered.
Missourians also voted to approve a minimum wage increase in 2018, which is now also in the crosshairs of the state GOP. In both cases, it’s State Rep. Cody Smith who has led the charge in trying to discard the will of voters. He may well get away with delaying the minimum wage increase, but the Medicaid sabotage should in theory be far more difficult to pull off once it gets to the state courts.
Arkansas: The sickos that run the Razorback State have finalized legislation that allows medical professionals to opt out of performing non-emergency services on patients based on “moral” objections, as if denying someone medical treatment is a truly moral choice. This is, really, a thinly veiled attempt to give doctors and nurses the permission to not LGBTQ+ people, which again, doesn’t feel all that moral to me.
Florida: Ron DeSantis, who has been given inexplicable deference and rosy coverage by the national media over the last few months, is getting even more people killed with his wildly irresponsible decisions. New numbers out of Florida indicate that the state, which has opened up far faster than anywhere else (and for the most part never really shut down), is now setting the pace with new COVID-19 infections.
It includes an uptick in young people being infected, probably because schools are wide open and spring break parties have been raging. Florida’s horrible vaccine rollout, which has prioritized DeSantis’s constituency of rich white people, is also culpable for the rise in cases.
New Jersey: Speaking of vaccine rollouts, here’s an interesting story about how state-controlled vs. more local distribution has played out in New Jersey vs. Pennsylvania.
Amazon: The union vote in Bessemmer is ending tomorrow. The ballots will be counted under a cloud of inappropriate and downright illegal activity by the company now known the world over for urine-filled bottles, but regardless of the outcome, it’s really just the start of what should be a long run of labor reckonings for the e-retail monopoly.
Mississippi: In 2017, the state that ranks last in most poverty measurements stopped suspending drivers’ licenses as punishment for unpaid fines, a progressive change that much of the country has not yet adopted. Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons just introduced a new law that would give states incentives to not suspend or refuse to reinstate a person’s license over unpaid fines.
It’s a seemingly minor idea but one that will make a world of difference for people who need a car to get to work. For conservatives obsessed with self-sufficiency and determined to end big government, it would seemingly be a no-brainer.
Here’s a fun note to end on: Deposed former Sen. Kelly Loeffler has launched her own voter suppression group down in Georgia, creating what is a bizarro world version of Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight. The organization will have its big kickoff party in April (check out the invite here) at Truist Park, the home of the Atlanta Braves, a team owned by right-wing media mogul John Malone. The stadium was built with an enormous public investment of nearly $400 million and has thus far done nothing for the local economy (and in some cases, hurt small businesses). Welfare for the rich!
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