Opinion: We must heed Dr. King’s admonition on the ballot

On Thursday, March 25, 2021, the Georgia General Assembly made the best possible case for new federal voting rights legislation – the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Voting without irony or awareness, 56 years after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. issued his triumphant speech at the close of the March from Selma to Montgomery, the Georgia General Assembly passed S.B. 202 — a bill to undermine democracy and majority rule in Georgia.

In response to a highly contested and highly scrutinized election, the majority of legislators rejected facts and embraced fear-mongering and conspiracy theories. They rejected the same electoral process in which they, themselves, won election. Senate Bill 202 is an anti-voter bill that attacks absentee voting, criminalizes giving Georgians a drink of water to their neighbors, allows state takeover of county elections, and retaliates against the elected Secretary of State by replacing him with a State Board of Elections Chair chosen by the legislature — not the voters.

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Andrea Young, Executive Director of the Georgia ACLU. (ERNIE SUGGS/esuggs@ajc.com)

Andrea Young, Executive Director of the Georgia ACLU. (ERNIE SUGGS/esuggs@ajc.com)

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Andrea Young, Executive Director of the Georgia ACLU. (ERNIE SUGGS/esuggs@ajc.com)

The General Assembly voted to undermine our democracy by attempting to manipulate not only the electorate, but also the 159 independent boards of election in the counties. As always, the burden of these changes falls most heavily on voters of color.

In that speech in Montgomery, Dr. King provided a history lesson — that Jim Crow and segregation were created following Reconstruction, because “the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would prey upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality.”

In 2020, Georgians united, again in a multiracial, multicultural coalition that elected a white man and a woman of Asian and African descent to the highest offices in the land and a Jewish man and a Black Baptist preacher to the U.S. Senate.

Georgia voters elected the most diverse General Assembly in our history, and chose Black Americans to lead county commissions, district attorney offices and sheriff’s offices in formerly “white flight” suburbs.

Again, we face a backlash against multiracial democracy.

The majority that controls the General Assembly rejected the multiracial vision that welcomed the world to Atlanta in 1996, built the world’s-busiest airport, and created one of the most popular hospitality and logistics centers in the United States.

We will follow Dr. King’s admonition, “Let us march on ballot boxes until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.”

Andrea Young is executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.