The Jolt: Vice President Harris says Georgia election law is clear voter suppression

12/21/2020 — Columbus, Georgia — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during a car rally in Columbus, Georgia, Monday, December 21, 2020. Vice President-elect Harris was in Georgia stumping for US Senate Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Rahpael Warnock.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
12/21/2020 — Columbus, Georgia — Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaks during a car rally in Columbus, Georgia, Monday, December 21, 2020. Vice President-elect Harris was in Georgia stumping for US Senate Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev. Rahpael Warnock. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

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

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

For weeks, Georgia Democrats have insisted that the state’s new election law is the prime example for why Congress should adopt federal legislation to expand voting rights.

Vice President Kamala Harris made the same case during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, arguing that a “renewed attempt to suppress the ability of people to vote” imperils ballot access in Georgia.

“You can support and defend people’s basic rights to participate in society while also investing in the economy and investing in its growth,” said Harris. “But we have initiatives like what’s happening in Georgia that are designed in a way that is really about suppressing our democracy.”

President Joe Biden’s administration has staunchly opposed the law, which includes ID requirements for absentee ballots, curbs the use of ballot drop boxes and gives the GOP-controlled Legislature more sway over state elections.

The vice president drew a line between Democratic victories in Georgia in November’s presidential race and the January runoffs and the GOP push to overhaul the state’s election system.

“It is not only a tragic attempt to manipulate a system for political gain, but in the process it has the potential to undermine the very integrity of our democracy,” said Harris in the interview. “And it is clearly motivated by an election that was a shining example of what expanded access can do to enhance a democracy.”

We’ll let Gabriel Sterling, a top deputy of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, serve as the counterpoint. In a Washington Post op-ed, Sterling said he worries that the rhetoric from Biden around the new law could turn dangerous.

The president has also repeated the lie that “this is Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Democrats have clearly realized this is a potential fundraising tactic regardless of the impact on voter confidence. It is no small wonder how a law, which election experts agree expands voting access to all Georgians, could be compared to the vast historical effort to disenfranchise and oppress Black Americans.

While this isn’t necessarily how Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, or I, would have written this law, it is not what President Biden claims. We saw just three months ago how election disinformation such as this can lead to violence. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

Note from us: Most voting rights advocates and election law experts say the provision ensuring early in-person voting on weekends can be interpreted as an expansion of voting access. Not so much for many of the law’s other changes, which they say create or increase barriers to casting ballots.

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The conservative Heritage Action for America political committee is spending $1 million on ads running in Georgia to praise the new election law and amplify the GOP message that President Joe Biden is lying about its provisions.

The spots will run CNBC cable channel and local broadcast networks in the Atlanta area. A small portion was also set aside for digital ads.

“To provide a pressure-free voting experience, special interest groups are kicked out of polling places, and counties can still provide water for people waiting in line,” the ad says. “That’s the truth: read it yourself, and don’t fall for the lies by those who want to divide us.”

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One of the more controversial aspects of Senate Bill 202, the state’s new election law, was the limit of the use of ballot drop boxes.

Although the law requires each county to use them for the first time, it also mandates that they be inside polling stations, available only during voting hours, and limited to one for every 100,000 residents in each county.

Writing in the Savannah Morning News, the president of the League of Women Voters of Chatham County gives one of the few glimpses into how widely they were used in the area in the last elections.

The group raised money in 2020 to purchase nine drop boxes for the county. They will now be limited to two.

“The state Board of Elections set strict guidelines that make them secure, more so than mailing a ballot via the U.S. Postal Service. They must be bolted to the ground on city or county property, must have 24-hour video surveillance with 30 days of backup, must be emptied every 24 hours by two people, one of whom is a county elections employee; ballots go in a secure locked bag similar to the ones used by armored bank trucks.

“In Chatham, one of the only counties to track usage, 24,000 came via a drop box in the general election and almost 21,000 in the January runoff, according to the Board of Registrars. There were zero accusations of fraud regarding the boxes and zero proven fraudulent actions regarding either election in general.”

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The U.S. House Transportation Committee held a hearing on Wednesday where members discussed what they hope is include President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion package.

We took note of the written testimony from Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, which had some interesting tidbits. For example, Bishop said federal regulations should be relaxed to allow heavier trucks to haul goods on American interstates.

“Allowing trucks to carry at this modestly higher gross vehicle weight, with a sixth axle for bridge formula compliance, will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make roads safer for families and drivers, and minimize congestion on state and local roads,” he wrote.

Bishop also advocated for grants for local school districts to switch their fleets to buses that burn cleaner fuel, more charging stations for electric vehicles and expanding broadband internet in rural America.

The AJC’s David Wickert also has fresh reporting on how Biden’s infrastructure plan could benefit Georgia.

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Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols said on social media last night he’s planning to run for another term on the PSC, and will not run to succeed Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

A big group of Republican contenders is eyeing the LG race, including Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller and state Sen. Burt Jones. Democratic state Rep. Erik Allen announced a bid last month, and state Sen. Harold Jones is also considering a run.

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We told you that Latham Saddler, a former Navy SEAL and Trump Administration national security official, was likely to get into the race against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Saddler will make it official Thursday with the public launch of his campaign. He’ll also release a video to introduce himself to Georgia voters, which you can watch here.

With Saddler’s entry into the race, Warnock now has at least two GOP challengers as he defends the Senate seat. Air Force veteran and businessman Kelvin King put his hat in the ring earlier this week.

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Case closed. That’s the decision of the Valdosta Ethics Board, convened to review a complaint against Mayor Scott James Matheson, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Local activists had complained that Matheson’s conservative talk radio show violated the spirit of the city’s ethics code.

No so, said the ethics board, as it dismissed the case on a vote of 2 to 1.

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Metro Atlanta’s 6th Congressional District had the biggest swing leftward based on how residents voted in the 2020 presidential race compared to 2016, according to a new analysis from the Cook Political Report.

Democratic Congresswoman Lucy McBath won re-election in the 6th, although the boundaries are likely to change when the Republican-led legislature begins the redistricting process later this year. In case you’re wondering, an eastern Ohio district had the largest swing to the right.

The Partisan Voter Index released today includes data on how residents in all 435 congressional districts voted in last year’s presidential race compared to the national average and 2016. Other highlights:

  • Districts represented by Republican U.S. Reps. Barry Loudermilk, Jody Hice and Drew Ferguson all saw leftward swings this year. The southwest Georgia seat held by veteran Democrat Sanford Bishop swung to the right.
  • Andrew Clyde’s 9th District is Georgia’s most Republican; Democrat Nikema Williams’ 5th District is the most Democratic.
  • Although Carolyn Bourdeaux flipped the 7th District seat in Metro Atlanta and President Joe Biden also carried the district, it has an index score of +2 for the GOP, meaning the district performed two points more Republican than the nation as a whole.

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