Opinion: Ga. GOP’s essentially made it legal to discount your ballot

03/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), Chairman of the Special Committee on Election Integrity, introduces and speaks on HB 531 in the House Chambers on day 25 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Monday, March 1, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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03/01/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), Chairman of the Special Committee on Election Integrity, introduces and speaks on HB 531 in the House Chambers on day 25 of the legislative session at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Monday, March 1, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Let’s cut through the back-and-forth. All of the Republican-sponsored anti-voter bills had two things in common: They gave the Legislature the power to take over any Georgia county’s election administration and they sought to disproportionately harm voters, especially young people, those with disabilities, low-income voters, and voters of color.

With the passage of one of these omnibus bills, SB 202, the majority essentially made it legal to discount your ballot.

While Georgia Republicans salvage their political and donor relationships with major corporations headquartered here in Georgia, assuring them that their anti-voter bills aren’t really all that anti-voter, and laughably spinning the passage and signing of SB 202 as somehow an expansion of voter access, we must focus on their long-term strategy to take control of local election administration and put just enough barriers in front of certain groups of voters to adjust their margins — ensuring their success in future elections.

It’s important that voters know Republicans gave themselves the power to overturn any election results they disagree with — the very thing that twice-impeached President Trump insisted they should do after the 2020 election.

How exactly will they do this in future elections? SB 202, passed along party lines by the Republican-controlled Legislature, will give the majority in the legislature the power to control the State Election Board (SEB), weaken the power of the Secretary of State, and then use the secretary’s own resources to take over local county administration by removing a county election superintendent and replacing that person with a sham election administrator who is under the control of the majority party of the legislature.

David Wilkerson
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David Wilkerson

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Republicans, the party in control of every branch of state government since 2005, will abuse this power to target Democratic-leaning counties, some of the counties in which the greatest number of voters of color reside. Under the election administration changes in SB 202 this can happen in three steps.

First, SB202 adds new burdens, costs, and erects barriers for voters that will inevitably lead to long lines, polling place closures, and restrictions on early voting, which disproportionately affect populous, metro Atlanta counties. If the GOP did not expect enough counties to fail on their own, they’ve given counties plenty of additional things to do without additional resources.

Second, after they have guaranteed counties’ inability to comply with these new election administration demands, Republicans will label Democratic-leaning counties as ill-performing counties, using that as a justification to take control of local election administration under their own proposed election law changes.

Third, SB 202 gives Republicans broad discretion and authority to cast aside a local election administrator, for instance in a Democratic-leaning county, at any time during the election cycle — including through the election certification process.

Fulton County, for instance, has been in the sights of Republican legislators all session. Rather than provide additional resources to shore up election administration in large counties like Fulton, the GOP has created a situation where they can work to change the makeup of Fulton’s county election superintendents and potentially invalidate the votes of up to 800,000 voters.

But Republicans don’t have to challenge the authority or take over elections in all of the metro Atlanta areas. Remember, they only need to “find 11,780 votes,” to quote former President Trump. And Republicans, the party of “small government” and “local control,” can also find that small margin in rural counties, where they are ending bipartisan election oversight.

In doing so, the GOP in Georgia codified the Big Lie from 2020. The provisions to overtake county election administration undermine democracy and will secure what Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and other ardent conspiracy theorists sought, but could not acquire, in their baseless lawsuits following the 2020 election.

SB 202 can be used to cast aside voters’ duly submitted ballots, preventing their vote from being properly counted. This is a transparent attempt to circumvent the consistent rulings of dozens of judges in this state and across the country that protect the constitutional right of voters to have a ballot cast and counted.

And it’s not just happening in Georgia. Arizona, Michigan, Texas, and other states are seeing eerily similar bills at their state legislatures. Georgia is simply the testing ground.

SB 202 will further erode Georgians’ trust in our electoral systems. These bills, therefore, threaten the very basis of the fundamental right to cast a free and fair ballot in our state, regardless of which party is in power.

Ultimately, this is a short-sighted attempt by Republican legislative leadership who simply do not trust that Georgia voters will keep them in power in future elections. And so, relying on false rhetoric about last year’s secure election, they codified new powers for themselves to destabilize Georgia’s election system.

We cannot and will not stand for such abuse of power.

State Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Powder Springs, is House minority whip.