Voting Laws — Good or Bad?
Coke, Delta, Baseball & Biden vs. Georgia
“This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle,” muttered the president, in his first and only official press conference. He was referring to new voting laws passed in Georgia and reminding his handlers why they don’t let him do press conferences. Or stand-up comedy.
The Georgia law got a lot of blowback. Activists tore up the Twittersphere with outrage, and threat-mail filled the inboxes of corporate executives associated with the state. It worked. A lot of big-time corporations dutifully signaled their outrage, and Major League Baseball delivered a financial gut-punch to Atlanta by moving the summertime All-Star Game from there.
This all has to do with something called the “Election Integrity Act of 2021” (aka SB 202) passed by the legislature of the state of Georgia. After all of the questions and controversy surrounding the 2020 elections, and in light of changes to how people voted due to COVID, the legislature said they wanted to make it “easier to vote and harder to cheat.”
The outrage came from claims that the law is restrictive and suppressive of the vote, and mostly with regard to minority voting populations. President Biden’s official statement on the law used all of the following descriptions: “un-American,” “outrageous,” “a blatant attack on the Constitution,” and “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.”
An NBC News article echoed the “Jim Crow” moniker, calling it a “voter suppression bill” and advocating ways to “fight back.” Social media provided the usual flash mob reaction, and companies or corporations with significant offices in Georgia felt the immediate force of pressure. Most of them caved and issued similar sounding statements. These included giants like Coca-Cola, Delta, Porsche, JP Morgan Chase, UPS, and Bank of America.
The worst fallout for people and businesses in Atlanta was the decision by Major League Baseball to move this year’s All-Star Game from there, the estimated effect of which could be a $100 million dollar impact. Pressure was put on the PGA to move the Master’s from Augusta, but was unsuccessful.
What exactly are they saying is restrictive or suppressive about the new law? Here are the main allegations:
- Requires proof of every voter’s identification.
- Doesn’t do universal mail-in ballots to all registered voters.
- Limits drop boxes for people to take their ballots for dropping off.
- Changes polling hours to make them more restrictive (closing earlier).
- Doesn’t allow food or water to be given to people waiting in line to vote.
The wise reader should thus far be thinking of a few important questions:
- Are these allegations, on their face, true?
- Is the net effect of the law expansion or restriction of voting opportunity?
- If there are in fact restrictions, do they have justifiable reasons, like preventing specific kinds of fraud?
- How do these rules compare with those prior to the ones used in 2020 that were due to the special circumstances of COVID?
- How do these rules compare with those in other states?
A closer look at this law shows that the immediate reactions by critics were not entirely honest or accurate.
This one is the easiest one to assess, and the most surprising of the claims. The official Biden statement on the bill says, “Among the outrageous parts of this new state law, it ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.” This reiterated Biden’s remarks in his March 25 press conference (the day before the statement), when asked about the Georgia bill, when he called the changes to voting hours “sick” and “un-American.”
There is no other way to say this: the president was either totally confused or flat-out lying. There was no change in the hours at polling places whatsoever. Even the Washington Post, a virtual fan publication, was forced to assess this claim as false.
When it comes to verifying the identity of a voter, Georgia formerly used signature matching as its method. But criticism of the method has been growing, including analysis showing that it has caused a lot of legitimate ballots to be rejected — and disproportionally those of the oldest voters, the youngest voters and poor voters (not sure the exact reasons). Democrats in Georgia had been most critical of the practice.
So Georgia upgraded to simple ID requirement, as used in most other arenas of life. The new law says that you can use standard means like a driver’s license (9 of 10 residents purportedly have one). Or you can get a free state ID that works. Or if you are a federal employee at any level you can use that ID. Or you can use a current utility bill. Or you can simply give the last four digits of your SS#. And if you can’t do any of those things, you can still cast a provisional ballot and verify your ID later.
Using a standard non-photo ID requirement is non-controversial. Over half of the states use similar requirements (some photo, some non-photo). Others still use signature matching.
There was no such thing as mail-in voting prior to the year 2000 when Oregon innovated it. A decade later a few other western states added it. Still, prior to the COVID factor of 2020, only six states did it. But pandemic concerns were the basis for wide scale changes in last year’s elections, specifically pertaining to mail-in ballots. Exceptions were made allowing most citizens to vote by mail if they chose. Citizens were told that in-person voting was still the most secure, but mail-ins were allowed by anyone. Some states required reasons, some suspended the need for stated reasons, and a few mailed ballots to all registered voters, requested or not.
Under temporary 2020 conditions, Georgia mailed ballots to all registered voters. That was never intended to last. The new law requires absentee ballots to be requested but doesn’t require a reason to be given. This is called “no excuse” absentee balloting, and despite a lie by Georgia senator and pastor Raphael Warnock in his fundraising letter, Georgia’s new law allows for it. The requests include verifying your ID by putting a DL number or one of a few other indicators. It is worth noting that a number of states require specific reasons for receiving an absentee ballot.
The new law shortened the window of request-time from 180 days prior to an election to 78 days prior to an election. It also requires the ballot be returned one week earlier than the rules allowed in 2020.
Before 2020, only 8 states (mostly out West) had laws that pertained to ballot drop-boxes. Other states had such boxes available but they were not heavily used. In 2020 this changed dramatically. Ultimately 40 of the 50 states used drop-boxes to collect ballots.
Georgia first used ballot boxes in the June 2020 primary. The Secretary of State (a Republican) authorized widespread use of boxes for the November election, spread across all counties. The emergency order that accomplished this was set to expire in February of 2021. The new law maintains drop-boxes in every county, using a metric of one box per 100,000 residents.
That results in fewer boxes than were present in the 2020 elections, and it also requires that they be located at voting precincts or county election offices.
Food or Water for Voters in Line
Probably the most sensationalized thing reported on is the purported criminalization of giving water to those waiting in line to vote. CNN’s headline said it is “illegal” to give voters at the polls water; Reuters said the law “bans giving water” to voters. It sounds unreasonable, or even unnecessarily mean.
So what is this about? According to Georgia State Senator Mike Dugan, they “copied” this provision from New York’s election rule that makes it a misdemeanor for “any person” to “furnish money or entertainment” or to provide “any meat, drink, tobacco or refreshment” to voters, unless its value is less than a dollar. Many states have similar measures.
It may sound strange but there is a history to consider. Regulations like this were designed to prevent a form of electioneering at the polls often called “line warming,” in which parties representing candidates seek to curry favor or at least make a good last-minute impression on those about to cast votes.
The GA law says that no parties can give items of value (including food or drink) to waiting voters within a protected parameter of 150 feet of the polling station. Though “line warming” prevention rules already existed, there have apparently been those who disregarded it or found loopholes in it.
Dugan and other officials have said that the law does not prevent poll workers from providing refreshments, nor are people prevented from bringing their own. And outside parties can provide anything of value they wish to voters coming or going, so long as they are outside the protected parameter of the poll station.
Big picture, do the new regulations in Georgia have the net effect of expanding or restricting voting possibilities? The governor and legislators, again, said their goal was to make it “easier to vote, harder to cheat.” And thus the new law is expansive in some ways, but pulls back on some of the 2020 policies.
A comparison with other states shows Georgia to be unremarkable. It does not stand out as among the most expansive nor the most restrictive. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a helpful rundown of these comparisons.
There’s always room for debate, but nothing suggests the kind of voter suppression that some opponents have alleged. Anyone unaware of the events of 2020 and simply looking at Georgia voter laws before that time and now under the new rules would see more opportunity, not less. They would see more days for voting (including Sundays), no-excuse absentee ballots, drop boxes in every county, multiple ways to verify identification, required monitoring of polling places on election day to respond in case wait times get longer than one hour, automatic voter registration for everyone who gets a Driver’s License, and other measures that appear to do the opposite of suppressing votes.
Things that could be called restrictive, such as not automatically mailing ballots to all voters and preventing ballot harvesting, are shared by many other states. Democrats and Republicans both have had concerns in past years with policies that are more likely to open the door to voter fraud.
There are other concerns in this story besides rules pertaining to voting. One of them involves poisoning the public discourse with irresponsible rhetoric. The president invoked “Jim Crow,” as did several others. Elizabeth Warren’s tweet invoked the conspiracy that the election for governor was stolen from Stacey Abrams.
As the tweet suggests, the likely motive for such unhinged language is political. Democrats would love to create a voter suppression narrative in order to justify HR1, the bill that would mandate a federal takeover of elections and make every emergency stipulation from 2020 permanent.
But using “Jim Crow” in this way is utterly foolish and irresponsible. As the Georgia state director of the Frederick Douglass Foundation said, “A civil debate about voting rights is an important conversation to have, but comparing Georgia’s election reform legislation to Jim Crow is insulting to my black ancestors who suffered through those dehumanizing segregation laws.”
As Rich Lowry wrote, Jim Crow meant poll taxes, “billy clubs and fire hoses.” To invoke it in such a flippant way is beyond cynical, and you shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Also worth note are a few ironies in the responses to the new law:
Activists opposing the new law claim to speak on behalf of Georgia voters. But according to a poll in January by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, when asked if it is more important to make voting easy or to add safeguards against possible voter fraud, a majority of Georgians said the latter. Also nearly 75% said they support requiring a form of identity verification for mail-in ballots.
Many outspoken opponents of the new law hail from states with more restrictive voter laws than the new ones in Georgia. Blue states like New York and New Jersey do not compare favorably with Georgia on many counts, but nobody has suggested protests for those states. Stacey Abrams even praised New Jersey’s law.
The laws in Biden’s home state of Delaware do not include automatic voter registration, do not permit no-excuse absentee balloting or same-day registration, and require ID verification in order to vote. We have to wonder if the president thinks his home state is “un-American.”
The MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision to punish thousands of Atlanta service-industry workers and small businesses by moving the Major League All-Star Game from that city to Denver. Ironies abound here. In an open letter to Manfred, Florida Senator Marco Rubio asked the commissioner if he was still going to do business with nations like China and Cuba, whose election policies, such as they are, do not exactly shine forth on the world’s stage.
Rubio referred to the recent lucrative streaming deal that MLB struck with the Chinese firm Tencent. That is the same company that financially punished the NBA in 2019 after the Houston Rockets owner supported human rights in Hong Kong. Manfred has not called for any action against China for its terrible, even genocidal, human rights abuses that are presently ongoing within its country.
As for the move from Atlanta to Denver, while Colorado — like other Western states — has looser voter laws than most, they still require a valid voter ID. And it has not been lost on many observers that MLB took millions of dollars and thousands of jobs from the 54% black population of Atlanta in order to award them to the 90% white population of Denver.
Originally published at ClintRoberts.substack.com. Reprinted with permission.