OPINION: The Major League blame game over voting rights in Georgia

A fan - wearing a Braves jersey and a Cubs hat - holds a sign thanking Major League Baseball for "supporting voting rights" during the fifth inning of a Braves-Cubs game Monday, April 26, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta.  MLB moved the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta over Georgia's new voting law. The July 13 game will now be played in Denver. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Caption
A fan - wearing a Braves jersey and a Cubs hat - holds a sign thanking Major League Baseball for "supporting voting rights" during the fifth inning of a Braves-Cubs game Monday, April 26, 2021, at Truist Park in Atlanta. MLB moved the 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta over Georgia's new voting law. The July 13 game will now be played in Denver. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

It’s hard to keep track of who’s on first when it comes to the professional-level finger-pointing going on over Cobb County losing the Major League Baseball All-Star game, but here it goes.

The League pulled the game after Republicans passed a bill with broad changes to voting in Georgia through the General Assembly and Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law.

The Democrats didn’t suggest the bill. They didn’t write the bill and they definitely didn’t vote for the bill.

But on Tuesday night, the All-Star game telecast was full of ads from Republicans blaming Democrats for the MLB’s decision to relocate to Denver.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s campaign ad accuses “Stacey Abrams and the liberal mob” for MLB’s move. The National Republican Senatorial Committee says “even Stacey Abrams opposed the boycott,” and blames U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

That neither Abrams nor Warnock is a member of the Legislature that passed the bill is beside the point.

Other ads are a mish-mash of “woke,” “socialist,” “cancel culture,” and all the other buzz words the GOP has been using to describe Democrats lately.

Did Democrats protest SB 202? Yes, they did. Did corporations take those protests seriously? Yes again.

But that doesn’t make Democrats responsible for the corporate backlash to the bill that Republicans passed in the first place.

If you’re confused about whose fault this whole mess is, you may also be confused about what ultimately ended up in Senate Bill 202 and the effects it will have on future Georgia elections.

The new law made dozens of changes to Georgia’s election laws and it may not be clear until we’ve had an election who was most impacted .

Among the big-ticket items in the bill were the new identification requirements to vote by mail. The old law required identification for all first-time voters, and then let repeat voters verify their identity with their signatures.

The new law requires either a drivers’ license number, a valid passport or state voter ID, or a copy of a government employee ID card, or current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.

Democrats balked at the photo ID requirement, which they said would affect people of color far more than white voters. And an analysis by the AJC’s Mark Niesse found that about 56% of registrants without ID are, in fact, Black.

The bill will also require at least one drop box in each county. That’s more than about 50 Georgia counties had in 2020, but it will also be a major reduction for Georgia’s largest and most Democratic counties.

Niesse worked with a team of reporters to determine that about 56% of absentee voters in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties returned their ballots in drop boxes before November’s election.

Fulton County alone had 38 drop boxes. Cutting that number to one for every 100,000 voters is a restriction no matter how you spin it.

The new law also drains much of the power over elections away from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office and gives it to the state Legislature.

But that’s a change Democrats might appreciate if Republican U.S. Rep. Jody Hice becomes the next Secretary of State or if Democrats take back power in the General Assembly down the road.

But no matter what the details of the law are, the origins of the bill were always going to make some voters wonder if it was ever necessary at all.

Although some in the GOP leadership had plans to rein Raffensperger in during the 2021 session, the real momentum for changing the laws came from grave doubts GOP voters had over the outcome of the 2020 election in Georgia. And those doubts were planted and fanned daily by former President Donald Trump.

“Fellas, I need 11,000 votes,” Trump told Raffensperger and his staff on that infamous phone call in January. “Give me a break. You know, we have that in spades already.”

The former president also called Georgia’s elections “rigged” and a “joke.” He repeated disproven claims and made blanket accusations in multiple states. No court upheld even one of them, but he never stopped.

An AJC poll in February found that while just 4% of Democrats thought there was substantial fraud in the 2020 elections, 76% of Republicans in Georgia believed there was.

GOP lawmakers arrived in Atlanta in 2021 knowing they’d need to pass something to take home to their voters.

And Democratic lawmakers arrived in Atlanta having been down this road before.

When the state Senate began to debate its version of the voting changes, including eliminating Sunday voting, Republicans seemed genuinely surprised their Democratic colleagues accused them of voter suppression.

But that’s the reality many of the Democrats had experienced themselves.

“Let me tell you what I know about voter suppression,” state Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, said as he talked about his parents being asked to count beans in a box to vote.

“Let me tell you what I’ve lived through.”

That Democrats, especially Black Democrats, would fight against this bill should have come as no surprise, when the data shows portions of it affect Black voters more than white voters, deliberately or not.

The twist is that the issue has polled incredibly well for Republicans since then.

A University of Georgia poll taken just after the MLB’s announcement found that a majority of Georgians opposed the decision to move the game and that 60% said they opposed companies using their public role to shape political opinion or promote cultural change.

Republicans passed a bill they knew would make their own voters happy, but Democrats angry. Major League Baseball didn’t want the controversy so pulled out of the state.

The issue is working for Republicans, so they ran ads during the All-Star game about it

It’s not really about who is at fault for the MLB pulling out of Georgia. It’s about politics. And it’s all just a part of the game.