Georgia's new voting laws cause an uproar.

Is it voter suppression or election security?
Isaac Saul Mar 30, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and you’re reading Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone forwarded you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 11 minutes.

The new voting laws in Georgia, a question about party affiliation on ballots and a very interesting story about crime in Baltimore, Maryland.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp taking the oath of office to become governor in 2019. Photo: Georgia National Guard

Correction.

I meant to do this yesterday but forgot. In last week’s edition on the Boulder, Colorado, shooting, I said that the Columbine school shooting happened in 1993. This was an odd mistake to make as I was alive and remember when school shootings “became a thing.” Columbine happened on April 20th, 1999.

This is the 37th Tangle correction in its 83-week existence and the first since March 23rd. I track corrections, and place them at the top of the newsletter, in an effort to maximize my transparency with readers.


Quick hits.

  1. President Biden announced a slate of 11 judicial nominees, including a candidate who would become the first Muslim American federal judge in U.S. history if confirmed. (CNN)
  2. State marijuana rollouts are lagging after legal challenges have slowed the process and delayed programs which voters made into law. (Fox News)
  3. CDC director Rochelle Walensky delivered an emotional plea to Americans not to let up on public health measures for another few months, warning that cases were ticking up in some places and we need more vaccinations before a return to normal. (Axios)
  4. Former President Donald Trump issued a scathing statement criticizing Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci after they criticized the government’s response to COVID-19 and implied hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented. (Politico)
  5. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appears to be eyeing a 2024 run for president, with a series of speeches, interviews and Twitter posts taking aim at President Joe Biden. (The New York Times, subscription)

What D.C. is talking about.

The new voting laws in Georgia. On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a sweeping voting reform bill into law.

First, let’s talk about what’s actually in the bill: It will replace signature matching with a procedure requiring voters to write down their driver’s license number on an absentee ballot and again on their ballot envelope. For the estimated 200,000 registered voters with no state ID or license, they would need to get a free voter ID card or return a copy of other documentation like a bank statement or utility bill with their ballot.

Drop boxes will also be more limited: only accessible at early voting locations and prohibited for the last four days before an election. They also will no longer be open 24 hours a day as they were during the 2020 election. And the law limits the number of boxes in each county based on the number of registered voters. Fulton County, for instance, had 38 drop boxes in 2020 but will only have eight under the new law.

The early voting period before runoff elections will be shortened from two weeks to one week. Voters will also have less time to request an absentee ballot (from 180 days before an election to 78 days in advance, with a deadline 11 days before an election).

Finally, in an effort to get results of the election to the public more quickly, the bill requires election officials work in shifts to count ballots until they are done, rather than taking breaks as they did in 2020. It also mandates that counties certify elections within six days, shorter than the previous timeline of 10 days. One part of the bill that grabbed a lot of headlines is that it makes it a misdemeanor for certain third parties to give out water or food to voters while they are waiting in lines.

You can read the bill here and local Georgia coverage of it here.

Below, we’ll look at some reactions from the right and left.


What the left is saying.

The left says the bill is explicitly designed to limit Democratic turnout and is ultimately going to harm voting access.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution editors said, “Georgia lawmakers managed to march firmly onto the wrong side of history.”

“Many people elsewhere, and here — among them investors, smart workers and employers — will see these voting access restrictions for what they really are: a house built hurriedly on shifting sands of lies,” they wrote. “Verifiable facts or statistics are not part of the foundation for the unwarranted package of changes rapidly signed into law Thursday behind closed doors. We’ve said it before here; and lawmakers’ actions necessitate saying it again. There was no voting fraud or related shenanigans of a magnitude that would have affected the outcome of the November elections — or the January U.S. Senate runoff. Lawsuits and other claims shakily asserting otherwise were quickly cast aside by the work of due process.

“So it will now be illegal in Georgia to offer food or drinks to people waiting in hours-long lines to exercise the most fundamental of American rights — casting a ballot in a free election,” they added. “Pack away Southern hospitality, y’all. And, even as Georgia continues to drag through a pandemic that’s killed more than 16,000 people here so far, no longer can absentee ballot drop boxes be placed outside — under video monitoring — for voters to more safely make their choices known. And a state that routinely pushes responsibility — and costs — for fundamental services down to local or county government now has the power to overrule local election officials — if they, in essence, don’t like the results they see.”

Ruth Marcus said, “Welcome to 2021, where Republicans have embarked on a national effort to suppress the vote at all costs. And, not to avoid the obvious, to suppress Black votes, because those ballots would not be cast to Republican advantage.

“It’s also a product of GOP desperation to retain or regain power,” she added. “Alice O’Lenick, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County election board, didn’t mince words about the need to tighten up voting rules in Georgia. After the ‘terrible elections cycle’ in 2020, when Republicans lost both Georgia Senate seats and Biden won the state’s electoral votes, ‘I’m like a dog with a bone,’ she told fellow Republicans in January. ‘I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws. They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts so that we at least have a shot at winning.’

“A shot at winning. Politics as zero-sum game. Proof positive that this isn’t about the phantom menace of voter fraud. It’s about making it as hard as possible for voters who aren’t inclined in Republicans’ favor to have their ballots cast or counted. You can debate whether the impact on voters of color is an intended feature or a problematic bug, but it’s an undeniable reality.”

Michelle Au, a Georgia state Senator and Democrat, said “This hastily sewn-together bill is a broad attack on voting rights.

“It includes imposing limits on the use of mobile polling places and drop boxes; raising voter identification requirements for casting absentee ballots; barring state officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballots to voters; and preventing voter mobilization groups from sending absentee ballot applications to voters or returning their completed applications,” she wrote. “The list goes on.”


What the right is saying.

The right says the bill’s contents contain reasonable, normal changes and that Democrats have drastically exaggerated the changes to make it look evil.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board had the most comprehensive response, calling the law “over-hyped”, and said comparisons to Jim Crow were “grotesque.”

“Georgia’s new law leaves in place Sunday voting, a point of contention with earlier proposals, given that black churches have a ‘souls to the polls’ tradition after services,” they wrote. “The Legislature, rather, decided to expand weekend early voting statewide, by requiring two Saturdays instead of only one under current law. In total, Georgia offers three weeks of early voting, which began last year on Oct. 12. This is not exactly restrictive: Compare that with early voting that started Oct. 24 last year in New York.

“The new law also leaves in place no-excuses absentee voting,” they wrote. “Every eligible Georgia voter will continue to be allowed to request a mail ballot for the sake of simple convenience—or for no reason at all. Again, this is hardly restrictive: More than a dozen states, including Connecticut and Delaware, require mail voters to give a valid excuse… Democrats aren’t smearing Georgia because they believe their ‘Jim Crow’ nonsense. Their strategy is to play the race card to justify breaking the Senate filibuster, so they can jam through their election reform known as H.R.1 and overrule 50 state voting laws.”

In The National Review, Dan McLaughlin said Democrats and Joe Biden were misleading the public about the bill.

“Let’s take a look at what S.B. 202 actually says,” he wrote:

No person shall solicit votes [or] distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to [a voter] … This Code section shall not be construed to prohibit a poll officer…from making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to [a voter] waiting in line to vote.

“The parts in bold are what S.B. 202 added to the statute. The prohibition applies inside polling places, within 150 feet of a polling place, or ‘within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.’ Now, first of all, notice what is not prohibited here,” McLaughlin explained. “Voters can still bring bottled water or other food or beverages with them to stand on line to vote, as people often do when waiting at Disney World or to buy concert tickets or in other public places where people stand on long lines. Voters can still also, if they like, order food; the bill doesn’t stop the Domino’s Pizza man or the local hot dog cart or taco truck from doing business.

“In other words, this entire controversy is not about people dropping dead of hunger and thirst on long voting lines at all,” he wrote. “It’s about electioneering around the polling place by people looking to advertise that they represent a cause, and who try to influence voters by giving them free stuff. Across the country today, we already have lots of laws against this sort of thing. There is nothing wrong with Georgia trying to limit it.”

Erick Erickson wrote that the bill is actually supported by the people Democrats claim it oppresses.

“A University of Georgia poll found that a majority of liberals, conservatives, black voters, white voters, men, and women actually supported requiring a photo ID copy be provided to vote absentee,” he said. “The Republican law does not even go that far — merely requiring a drivers license number or a photo ID number with the photo ID freely provided.”


My take.

It could have been worse. I’ve already written about similar changes being proposed across the country but there are things worth reiterating here.

First, I think it’s worth saying that this bill seems to be solving a problem that does not exist. If, in the wake of the 2020 election, Georgia state officials had presented evidence of widespread voter fraud or even just explained how voters took unfair advantage of the new access to voting that came up in the wake of COVID-19 — that may have justified some of these changes.

But they haven’t.

On the contrary, the same people who are pushing these bills — like Georgia Republican Brad Raffensperger — have also said their elections were 100% secure, which begs the question: Why now? They insisted that the recounts and audits they conducted proved this and that the paper ballots and mail-in votes were easy to verify. That means they are saying both that their system was not compromised in any way, that it ushered in record turnout which they handled admirably, and that they now need to totally overhaul the system. How could I not be skeptical? If you aren’t skeptical, you’re just not paying attention.

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.

As Ruth Marcus rightly pointed out, Republicans are not being shy about their motivations, both in court and in private. They’re trying to win elections. The state is headed the way of Virginia and could be reliably blue in a decade — shoot, it could be reliably blue now. The most charitable takeaway is that this is an attempt to ensure Republican voters trust the system enough to actually vote after their trust was destroyed in the first place by their own party’s unfounded claims of fraud. At the least charitable, it’s an outright attempt to limit the number of Democratic voters who can show up and cast ballots so as to ensure better results for Republicans going forward.

Still, Democrats have overplayed things with their theatrical claims around water and food in voting lines. I even retweeted a reporter who said “food and water is now banned” in Georgia voting lines before reading the bill — something I regret. This is not Jim Crow. This isn’t close. The tangible impact of the bill may end up being small, totally negligible or beneficial for Democrats (if they use it wisely politically). Buried in the 47th paragraph of AJC’s news report on the changes is this:

Despite the rhetoric of Democrats and civil rights groups, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Charles Stewart said most of the law’s provisions are “fairly mild as these sorts of changes go.” And he said Georgia election laws won’t be outside the norm, especially compared with other Southern states. “There may be some slight inconvenience to voters,” Stewart said. “But they don’t seem to be so insurmountable that they would throw elections one way or another in the future.”

Again: this bill is solving for nothing and, in my opinion, is a clear attempt by Republican lawmakers to preserve their power. But it’s not clear how big the impact will actually be — and if Democrats successfully use outrage over the bill to drive turnout, it could blow up in Republicans’ faces.

Ultimately, 2021 Georgian voters will have more access than 2019 Georgian voters and less access than 2020 voters. The people who fought this bill managed to preserve no-excuse absentee ballots and early voting on Sundays, which were two major wins for voting access. It’s an unnecessary bill that reinforces unproven claims of election fraud in Georgia and, if anything, will make it a little harder for the kinds of people who typically vote for Democrats in Georgia to cast ballots. While it could have been a lot worse, I’m sure that fact is cold comfort to voting rights activists.


Your questions, answered.

Q: Why is it that our ballots list the political party the candidate is affiliated with?  People can vote all the way down their party line when they may know nothing about the candidates. Shouldn’t you have to know enough about a candidate to know what party they are in to vote for them?  Has there ever been legislation proposed to change this and to what degree would this change voting?

— Tyler, Edina, Minnesota

Tangle: So, you’ve sort of answered your question in your question. The reason the party ID exists is so people can vote down the ballot without knowing who a candidate is or what they stand for. From a political party perspective, this is advantageous for both Democrats and Republicans, so there is no real push to change it.

That being said, there are some relevant changes that are happening around this. In states like Pennsylvania and Texas, legislatures have been kicking around the prohibition of straight-ticket voting — which is where a voter can cast a ballot for all Democrats or all Republicans with one button or bubble. Democrats tend to benefit more from straight-ticket voting, according to the common wisdom, so they often fight those bills.

While straight-ticket voting might end in some states, if anything, you’ll probably see more party identification in the future. In Ohio, there’s a fight to add party identification to positions like judgeships.

Still, the issue has been discussed for a while. This 2003 article from The New York Times discusses Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s advocacy for nonpartisan elections with no party labels. Back then, opponents of such a change argued that well-funded candidates would win by outspending opponents and could easily message whatever they wanted to voters while being unmoored from party affiliation.

There’s also the inverse of your concern. In Alaska, for instance, a candidate wanted to have her party registration on the ballot because she was an independent. Because she won the Democratic primary as an independent, without her party identification, she was worried Republican and independent voters would assume she was a Democrat — and in Alaska that could have hurt her.

Ultimately, I think party identifications do more good than harm. The real issue — right now — is that it’s a binary choice in most places and that there are seldom more than two parties with a real chance of winning to choose from.


A story that matters.

Most of the time you hear about Baltimore, Maryland, it’s probably to fear-monger over its crime rate. But while violent crime has spiked in major cities across America during the pandemic, it has fallen in one of the most notorious crime cities in the U.S. Why? State Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said it’s because the city stopped prosecuting drug possession, prostitution, trespassing and other minor charges during the pandemic. And now: she’s making those changes permanent, and says the city “will partner with a local behavioral health service to aggressively reach out to drug users, sex workers and people in psychiatric crisis to direct them into treatment rather than the back of a patrol car.” (The Washington Post)


Numbers.

  • 40. The number of years, to the day, since former President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest during an assassination attempt.
  • 1 in 4. The number of Asian Americans who say they have experienced a hate incident.
  • 19%. The rise in coronavirus cases across the United States over the last two weeks.
  • 11%. The rise in coronavirus vaccines administered across the United States over the last week.
  • 95 million. The number of Americans who have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
  • 2.76 million.The average number of vaccine doses administered each day over the last week.

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Have a nice day.

The scientist behind the success of the coronavirus vaccine says it will soon be used to fight another global scourge: cancer. Ozlem Tureci, who cofounded the German company BioNTech, is a pioneer of the mRNA techniques currently used in the most popular and successful coronavirus vaccines. But before COVID rocked the world, she and her husband had been developing the technology to address cancerous tumors. Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines (against) cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.” (Associated Press)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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