Jun 30, 2021

The Dept. of Justice sues Georgia.

The Dept. of Justice sues Georgia.

Does the lawsuit have a chance?

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

We’re skipping the reader question to focus on our main story: the Department of Justice suing the state of Georgia.

Merrick Garland, now attorney general, chats with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in 2016. Photo: Senate Democrats / Wikicommons

Quick hits.

  1. The Trump Organization and its chief financial officer will be charged with tax-related crimes by the Manhattan district attorney’s office as early as Thursday. Trump himself isn’t expected to be charged. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  2. Los Angeles officials are urging a return to indoor mask wearing, even for the fully vaccinated, citing the rapid spread of the more contagious delta variant. In May, the CDC rescinded almost all masking recommendations for fully vaccinated Americans. (The Washington Post)
  3. New York City’s mayoral race was thrown into chaos last night after the Board of Elections erroneously released a new tally of votes that included test ballots. Election officials then issued a new advisory saying ranked-choice results would be available “starting June 30,” leaving widespread confusion as to who is leading the race. (The New York Times, subscription)
  4. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Centers for Disease Control, allowing an eviction moratorium to remain in place until July 31. (CNN)
  5. Years of warnings about structural problems were ignored before the Surfside condo in Miami collapsed last week. More than 150 people are still unaccounted for. (Associated Press)

What D.C. is talking about.

Georgia (again). On Friday, the Department of Justice announced a lawsuit against the state of Georgia over its latest voting laws, which federal authorities alleged purposefully discriminate against Black voters. The complaint, United States v. Georgia, is signed by senior lawyers in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and sets up a major showdown between the Biden-led federal government and the Republican-led Georgia state legislature.

This March, Georgia Republicans passed the Election Integrity Act, which was then signed by Gov. Brian Kemp (we covered the bill here). The Department of Justice’s lawsuit is not an attempt to take down the entire law, nor does it target some of the most controversial provisions, which gave more power to the state legislature to suspend county election officials and handpick who oversees the disqualification of ballots.

Instead, the lawsuit is aimed at the parts of the bill that limit the use of absentee ballot drop boxes, shorten the period of time voters have to request them, and stop the distribution of unsolicited absentee ballots. It also takes aim at a provision that makes it illegal for outside groups to provide food and water to voters waiting in line. In Georgia, Black voters have used absentee ballots at higher rates than white voters and are more likely to have to wait in long lines to vote, which is the basis of the lawsuit.

The lawsuit is the first major action taken by the Biden administration to confront a spate of new state-level voting legislation being enacted by Republican lawmakers. It is asking the Supreme Court to put Georgia back under “preclearance,” a rule that gives the Justice Department the ability to block new election laws if it determines they are racially discriminatory. Until 2013, when a Supreme Court ruling ended preclearance rules, that process was a crucial component of the Voting Rights Act.

Below, we’ll take a look at some reactions to the lawsuit from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

The left has been supportive of the lawsuit, arguing that Georgia’s laws were clearly designed to discriminate against Black voters.

In Vox, Ian Millhiser explained that Georgia’s Black population has grown substantially in the last 30 years, which is part of the reason Democrats had historic wins in 2020.

“These Black Georgians were especially likely to use absentee ballots in the 2020 election cycle — so the law’s provisions limiting absentee balloting will have a disproportionate impact on African Americans if this pattern continues into future elections. (Although most of the spike in absentee voting in 2020 can be attributed to the pandemic, Black activists in Georgia have a history of using absentee voting drives to increase turnout),” he wrote. “Black Georgians have also been much more likely to face long lines when they vote in person, according to the DOJ, which is why a law preventing good Samaritans from providing food and water to people waiting to cast a ballot is also likely to have an outsized impact on African Americans.

“The law passed without any support from Black lawmakers, and the legislature used an unusually rushed process to pass the bill,” Millhiser added. “Among other things, the GOP-controlled legislature bypassed the legislative committee that ordinarily would have overseen such a bill, and assigned it instead to a special committee chaired by a lawmaker who’d previously compared the ‘always-suspect absentee balloting process to the ‘shady part of town down near the docks you do not want to wander into because the chance of being shanghaied is significant.’”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board said “the lawsuit is appropriate — and should be the first of many.”

“The laws are overwhelmingly stacked against Democratic voters — by design — to hamper voting, especially voting in urban areas,” the board said. “Those chiefly affected are minorities and the poor. None of this is happening in a vacuum, of course. Sponsors of these laws maintain they are needed to address the mass voter fraud that former President Donald Trump still falsely claims cost him last year’s election… The Georgia law would give voters less time to request absentee ballots, prohibit mailing ballots to all voters, ban mobile voting centers, severely restrict use of ballot drop boxes around heavily Democratic Atlanta, and give the Legislature the power to suspend county election officials. It even criminalizes giving food and water to people waiting in line to vote.

“Since urban areas have more voters and longer lines, most of the provisions will hamper voting in those regions more than in lightly populated rural areas,” they concluded. “Urban centers tend to be home to more Democrats — and to more African Americans, which is the crux of the Justice Department’s lawsuit.”

In The Washington Post, Joyce White Vance said Garland “intends to challenge other state laws that discriminate against minority voters.”

“This is more than idle speculation,” she wrote. “Other states already have provisions on the books like the ones the DOJ is challenging in Georgia. And some states, like Michigan, are on the cusp of adopting new laws with discriminatory features… Michigan is an excellent example of where Garland might turn next if the proposed law passes. Restrictive voting measures are justified as necessary to prevent voter fraud. But in Michigan, a GOP-led investigation concluded there wasn’t widespread fraud in 2020. The DOJ will focus on situations like this, where the facts demonstrate that fraud is offered as a pretext for sacrificing the rights of Black voters in an effort to win elections.”

What the right is saying.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board called the lawsuit “as transparently political as its argument is unconvincing.”

“When Covid hit in the run-up to Georgia’s 2020 primary, state officials decided to send every active voter an unsolicited application for a mail ballot,” the board said. “The new law bans this practice. As proof of animus, the feds point to an interview by House Speaker David Ralston, who said that mass mail voting could ‘drive up turnout’ and be ‘extremely devastating to Republicans.’ The lawsuit doesn’t mention that in the same interview Mr. Ralston cited ‘a multitude of reasons why vote by mail, in my view, is not acceptable.’ One, security: ‘You send a ballot application into a home on a mass scale, as has been proposed to do, and you don’t know who’s going to vote the ballot.’ Two, privacy, in case election officials mass-mailed ballots with ‘personal data’ already filled out. In any case, last year’s emergency measures in a 100-year pandemic are not a reasonable baseline today.

“The lawsuit’s argument on ballot drop boxes has the same problem,” the board said. “In 2019 they were illegal in Georgia. When the pandemic hit, the state temporarily approved them, and there were 38 in Fulton County, which contains most of Atlanta. If the Legislature had done nothing, the lapsing of the emergency authorization would have outlawed drop boxes again. Instead lawmakers made them permanent, albeit under tighter rules that let Fulton County set up only eight. Essentially, the feds are arguing that any retreat from Covid rules is racist.”

In a USA Today column, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the Biden administration’s Justice Department has “spent months spreading lies about the new election laws in Georgia and other Republican-led states.”

“Georgia's new election law includes positive election reforms that make sure we have objective measures for absentee ballots and for identification of voters, and it will restore confidence in our election,” he wrote. Instead of pursuing lawsuits or passing bills like the For The People Act, Raffensperger argues legislators should be focused on more helpful legislation. “Take the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the Motor Voter Act. It prohibits list maintenance from occurring 90 days before any federal election. That buffer makes it effectively impossible to conduct list maintenance during an election year, which have both primary and general elections for federal offices.

“In the meantime, the voter rolls get bloated with outdated and obsolete information. Americans are constantly on the move,” he wrote. “Around 10% move every year. In 2019 alone, 284,541 people moved to Georgia while 253,565 left. Georgia’s pool of eligible voters changes by the tens of thousands every month. Over the course of a year, the damage to the accuracy of the voter rolls snowballs. On paper, this means out-of-state voters remain able to cast ballots in states where they no longer live. Voters who move precincts cast ballots for candidates who no longer represent them.”

In The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria said that Garland has “vindicated” Mitch McConnell by politicizing the Justice Department.

“Garland is mobilizing his Justice Department based on activist lies,” he wrote. “We already know that Georgia’s voting law makes voting easier and more secure. Even the experts asked by the Washington Post determined that the ‘net effect’ of the law was to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them. We know that Georgia makes it easier to vote than New York, with more days of early voting, only slightly fewer voting hours in a day, and the requirement of voter ID.

“But Garland is not targeting New York,” Faria said. “He’s targeting Georgia, conveniently just days after a Democratic bill that would lead to a federal takeover of elections was defeated in the Senate. Garland is overseeing a grotesque distortion of the role of the DOJ, taking up a partisan battle with a baseless lawsuit.”

My take.

This kind of stuff makes politics absolutely infuriating.

To recap: before the coronavirus pandemic, Georgia had fairly restrictive voting laws. Long lines were a problem in all its major cities, mail-in voting was not widely accessible, and ballot drop boxes were banned. Because of the pandemic, Georgia made it a lot easier to vote without showing up at the polls. This had a lot of people very worried. The election happened, lots of new voters turned out, and Democrats won some huge races. According to the Republicans who ran the elections, there was no widespread election fraud (there is some isolated voter fraud in every election), and things essentially went off without a hitch.

Some pundits cried foul, Trump claimed the election was stolen, but Georgia state Republicans and Georgia courts have repeatedly and consistently reaffirmed the election was all above board. The Republican-led state legislature responded by trying to pass a set of targeted, restrictive voter laws — including things like closing polling stations on Sundays — that were clearly aimed at Democratic and Black Democratic voters. A national outcry forced the legislature to water those initial provisions down, and eventually, a set of more legally justifiable but likely still Republican-advantageous laws came into being.

As I said in March:

There’s no single part of the bill that is egregiously bad, but the way it looks as a whole is difficult to defend. If you’re going to limit time for early voting, that’s fine — but then you should make things like drop boxes more accessible so they’re easier to get to in a shorter period of time. Instead, they’re limiting both. If you’re going to require more documentation to submit an absentee ballot, that’s fine — but then give more time to request and fill out the absentee ballots, not less. Instead, they’re limiting both. It’s that sort of cumulative, “death by a thousand cuts” change that raises my hackles and makes this feel like something far more sinister than an election security bill.

Republicans’ reasons for doing this, ostensibly, are that a) voters in Georgia did not have faith in the results and b) the pandemic is over, so the provisions are no longer necessary. But the reason voters don’t trust the elections is that Republican pundits and politicians have repeatedly lied to them by claiming it was stolen — a claim they still have not provided any compelling evidence for, and which Republican election officials dispute. Reason “b” is a much stronger argument: we made these laws for the pandemic, the pandemic is over, let’s go back to something between pre-pandemic and post-pandemic.

My objection to that argument, though, is that the pandemic rules were great! They made voting much easier, there was no increase in election or voter fraud, and we saw record voter turnout. If any of those things weren’t true, I could get on board with some changes. But why fix something that isn’t broken? The biggest problem with the 2020 election was the huge delay in results, but we know why that happened. Many states did not allow early organizing or counting of ballots. The states that did — including Republican-run ones like Florida and Ohio — had results on the night of the election despite huge mail-in and early voting turnout. Other states, like Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, allow all their voters to vote by mail and had no issues around delays in results on election night.

All I can conclude is that Republicans seem quite upset about this for only one reason: they lost. And they lost elections in places where they don’t normally lose, including in Georgia.

So now we have this lawsuit, which for a myriad of reasons is pretty much destined to fail. And this may be where Democrats have gotten out over their skis.

Ballot drop boxes were illegal in Georgia before the pandemic. Now they are legal, though there will be far fewer than there were during the pandemic. You’re unlikely to sell the Supreme Court on that being voter suppression.

Georgia has always had voter ID laws, now they’re extending those laws to mail-in voting by requesting something like a utility bill for proof of residence. This idea has been embraced both by Stacey Abrams (the progressive icon) and Joe Manchin (the Democratic senator currently loathed by progressives). You’re not going to sell the Supreme Court on that being suppression either.

The new law asks voters to request an absentee ballot at least 11 days before an election (the previous deadline was four). Is this intended to target Black voters, who are more likely to request a ballot in that timeframe? Maybe. But it’s also smart: the Postal Service suggested the deadline be 15 days before an election to account for the time it may take to get ballots back and forth. Meanwhile, 16 states offer no absentee voting without an excuse, but all Georgians may vote absentee by simply asking under the new law. You’re not going to sell the Supreme Court on that being suppression.

Finally, the lawsuit is targeting the ban on giving out drinks and food to people in line. There is a common-sense reason for this ban: outside groups could “buy” votes by approaching people with food or water (i.e. gifts) and then pitch them on their candidate. Plenty of other states have similar prohibitions against campaigning within certain distances of polling places already. But, again, it’s Black voters who are most often waiting in line in Georgia and it’s Democratic groups that have recently been giving out food and water to keep them from leaving. So, there’s a bit of grey area that the lawsuit is trying to make black and white, but I still don’t think you’re going to sell the Supreme Court on that being suppression.

The end result will be a lot of political football and a state who has just made voting less accessible without really improving security. Meanwhile, some of the most troubling provisions in the Georgia law — like the ones giving increased power to partisan legislators during election reviews — are going unchallenged.

What voters actually want is increased access to things like no excuse mail-in voting, which makes it easier to vote (and allows you to vote without having to escape work or find a polling station). They want voter ID laws (not necessarily photo IDs, but definitely some proof of residence or identification). They want quick results, so there aren’t weeks of waiting around while conspiracy theories about what’s happening spread online. Voters want low friction, easy access, secure voting in elections where the results come in within 24 hours.

So, excuse the cynicism, but the Georgia voting bill is a step in the wrong direction for most of those goals. And this lawsuit is not going to do anything to stop its worst elements. Hooray, America.

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A story that matters.

High-stakes negotiations over a major overhaul of policing laws have hit a precarious state, according to CNN. Lawmakers negotiating a federal reform to policing laws have missed two deadlines already, and after weeks of positive news about a deal coming to fruition there are suddenly clouds of doubt. The negotiations are being led by Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Bass told reporters Tuesday that reforming qualified immunity — a legal protection police often use in civil court — is still a major sticking point. (CNN)


  • 81%. The percentage of registered voters who support showing proof of identification in order to vote.
  • 72%. The percentage of registered Democrats who support showing proof of identification in order to vote.
  • 77%. The percentage of registered Independents who support showing proof of identification in order to vote.
  • 92%. The percentage of registered Republicans who support showing proof of identification in order to vote.
  • 60%. The percentage of all registered voters who say they support requiring at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections.
  • 65%. Percentage of Georgia voters who said they support a law requiring a driver’s license number to verify absentee ballots.

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