Opinion: Gutting voting rights will hurt GOP long-term

Ann White of Roswell holds protest signs on the North Wing stairs of the Georgia State Capitol building on day 38 of the legislative session in Atlanta, Thursday, March 25, 2021. "It ain't over yet," said White. "I look forward to going door-to-door working against everybody that voted for [SB 202]." SB 202 passed the House Chambers and was immediately transferred to the Senate Chambers. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution /TNS)
Ann White of Roswell holds protest signs on the North Wing stairs of the Georgia State Capitol building on day 38 of the legislative session in Atlanta, Thursday, March 25, 2021. "It ain't over yet," said White. "I look forward to going door-to-door working against everybody that voted for [SB 202]." SB 202 passed the House Chambers and was immediately transferred to the Senate Chambers. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution /TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

“The president said it best. This will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.” “This will certainly drive up turnout.” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.

Ralston was referring to the early 2020 legislative effort to make voting easier for Georgia citizens in light of the pandemic. These measures included the state automatically mailing an absentee ballot request form (not the ballot) to all registered voters.

The GOP thinking behind the 2020 law was that enacting it would encourage GOP voters, many of whom are seniors and concentrated in rural areas, to cast ballots.

But Ralston was correct; it didn’t work out that way.

Jack Bernard, the first director of Health Planning for the state of Georgia, has been a senior level executive with several national health care firms. A Republican, he's a former chairman of the Jasper County Board of Commissioners.
Jack Bernard, the first director of Health Planning for the state of Georgia, has been a senior level executive with several national health care firms. A Republican, he's a former chairman of the Jasper County Board of Commissioners.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Ralston also worried about voting fraud.

He was wrong. According to the Republican Georgia Secretary of State, we had a very fair election with virtually no fraud.

However, Georgia Democrats had record turnout, electing two Democratic senators and giving Joe Biden Georgia’s electoral votes as well.

So now the partisan Georgia legislature’s passed a bill to restrict voting. The implausible explanation is that GOP legislators want to limit potential fraud. Of course, we all realize that the GOP’s real goal is to reduce the number of Democrats voting before the GOP loses the governorship and the legislature as well, due to changing demographics and the more-progressive views of many urban/suburban voters.

This sort of “Jim Crow” voter suppression of minorities in Georgia and other Southern states is not new, as any student of history can affirm. After the Civil War came Reconstruction and blacks were finally given the right to vote under the Constitution. Subsequently, many Black Americans were elected to state and national offices.

This initial success of Black Americans led to white resentment and a violent backlash in the Southern states. Thus, we entered a period in which we had physical intimidation of black voters in Southern states by the KKK and others, as well as obviously racist efforts to contain black voting through discriminatory measures such as the poll tax and rigged literacy tests.

After nearly a century of this unconstitutional abuse of black voters, Southern Democrat President Lyndon Johnson led Congress to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act. LBJ was correct in that its passage would mean that the South would leave the Democratic Party. However, the law itself worked well, in large part due to the fact that Southern states had to run their voting practices before the federal government before enacting them. Black voter registration and participation swelled.

However, in a startling 5-4 partisan 2013 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the nearly 50-year-old law. SCOTUS stated federal reviews were no longer needed because times had changed, thus throwing open the doors to Southern state efforts to reduce black voting. Since that time, Republican legislatures across the nation, especially in the South, have been actively engaged in clear voter suppression.

Gov. Kemp of Georgia has been a past beneficiary of voter suppression via his historic voter purges when he was secretary of state. These purges disproportionately reduced black voters. Therefore, it was no surprise that Gov. Kemp quickly signed Senate Bill 202, an anti-voting bill which harks back to the bad old days of Jim Crow.

Among other things, the law requires IDs for absentee voting. The time period for absentee and in-person voting is also reduced. And drop boxes for absentee voting are restricted. It also disenfranchises voters who may have voted in their county, but at an incorrect polling location.

Furthermore, it violates the GOP rule of letting local government run its own affairs. This law creates a State Elections Board, which essentially controls county elections.

Theoretically, Congress could pass H.R. 1, a national voting rights act, negating the effects of the Georgia law. However, 60 Senate votes are required to pass the law due to the filibuster. It’s very doubtful that 10 GOP senators will vote for it. Or that 50 Democrats will vote to end the filibuster rule entirely.

The last resort is the courts, specifically the U.S. Supreme Court. However, this court is highly politicized, with 6 conservatives versus 3 liberals. The possibility of two conservatives standing up for voting rights is remote.

The Georgia GOP will win this battle, but not the war. Georgia’s demographics are changing rapidly. When they change enough, the GOP will be voted out of power for good.

Jack Bernard was the first director of health planning for Georgia. A Republican, he’s a former chairman of the Jasper County Commission.

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