“The Truth About Georgia’s Voting Law”

Derek Thompson for The Atlantic:

What can we honestly say about the new Georgia voting-rights law? The legislation is based on a craven conspiracy theory about 2020 voter fraud. It has drawn a barrage of criticism from Democrats, including the president, that toes the line between moral indignation and unhelpful hyperbole. And it has triggered a spasm of corporate activism that seems ethical but is, the closer you look at it, scattershot….

Under the new law, registration is harder: An ID rule requires absentee voters to provide the number of their driver’s license or an equivalent state-issued ID. Formerly, they could just sign their name on the application. Requesting a ballot is harder too: Georgians had six months to request an absentee ballot in 2020; with the new law, they have only about three months. And delivering a ballot is harder: The law slashes the number of drop boxes in several urban and suburban areas; metro Atlanta, for instance, had 94 in 2020 but will have only 23 going forward. (Conservatives argue that the law requires drop boxes for the first time, and Democratic counties in Georgia will likely have more drop boxes than they did in 2016. But Georgia Republicans are straightforwardly making it harder to vote absentee just months after Trump falsely accused these ballots of being the source of a voter-fraud fantasy.)

For in-person voters, the Georgia law isn’t as restrictive. Most important, it expands early-voting periods. But the law does little else to reduce Georgia’s infamous long queues, and it even has a strange provision that outlaws offering water to a voter within 25 feet of the line or 150 feet from the polling station. Altogether, the law makes absentee voting harder, funneling citizens toward in-person voting that, on Election Day, may be a bit more parched and a bit more painful.

The most ominous provision of the law affects the final step in the voting process: the official count. The new law removes the Georgia secretary of state as chair of the State Election Board and allows the GOP-controlled legislature to handpick his replacement. “This issue is potentially pernicious,” Richard Hasen, a law and political-science professor at UC Irvine, told me. “The reason you didn’t have a total meltdown in Georgia last year is because you had a heroic secretary of state and a group of election administrators behind him who were not willing to mess with the fair counting of the vote. If this law had passed, there would have been other decision makers who would have had power to mess with the vote.”

I asked several experts if this provision would have made it easier for Trump to steal the state in 2020. “I don’t think we have any way of knowing,” Hasen said. “It’s an imponderable,” agreed the University of Georgia political scientist Charles S. Bullock III. “Could the GOP-selected chair throw out ballots that have already been tabulated, or turn away people from the polls? I don’t know how it would play out, but it would be very difficult to do, and there would be a court case.”

The uncertainty itself is a troubling thing. Across the country, Republican-controlled state legislatures are politicizing the process of voting administration in the aftermath of a close election in which the GOP loser convinced a majority of his supporters that it was stolen by Democratic fraud. That’s plenty eerie.


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