Using Those Voting Laws
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 23, 2022
The overly political ripples from Senate defeat of voter rights legislation this week are not going away.
The fervor of argument is too heartfelt for legislators or the public to walk away from what increasingly is being seen as a test of our national racial reckoning as well as pursuit of partisan party electoral politics.
So, we see Republican-majority state legislatures continue to roll out bills that in one form or another “guarantee voter integrity” by putting up hurdles to vote, even as we see new commitments from voter rights groups to run high-profile voter registration and information campaigns to overcome the worst expectations of the new rules.
We see courts splitting over allowing one gerrymander or another based on a crazy quilt of local laws and ruling against challenges to the new laws even if the practical result may be fewer people being allowed to vote. At the same time, we see New York considering allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections, an action that just spurs more enthusiasm from the limit-the-vote crowd.
We see effort in the Senate to shunt the discussion towards safer legislative grounds, this time a bipartisan, centrist approach to only adjust the 1887 Electoral Count Act in some undetermined way might clarify exactly what the vice president’s role is supposed to be when one party doesn’t accept election results.
We’re hearing even from Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who found himself at the wrong end of legally uncertain pressure to “find 11,780 votes” for Donald Trump, defending Georgia’s newly enacted hurdles are less burdensome than New Jersey’s laws. Raffensperger is under fire from a Trump-backed rival to crack down harder on voting access.
We see Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Arizona State Rep. Wendy Rogers and now Republican Georgia candidate David Perdue talking of forming “election police” units to enforce voting, and a slew of firings of local elections officials in red states. A Washington Post editorial calls it a deliberate move to “poison democracy.”
Rules And Implementation
In short, aside from the rule changes themselves, there are people and what they are doing in the name of the new rules.
In Houston or Texas’ Harris County, the new laws say there will be a single drop ballot box for 4 million people. Texas is telling hundreds of thousands seeking absentee ballots that they don’t qualify. The state says it’s now a crime for election workers to send absentee ballot applications to voters who didn’t request them, and in any event, the election folks say supply chain tie-ups are keeping them from having the paper to print absentee forms.
In Wisconsin, NPR tells us A Waukesha County judge has ruled that absentee ballot drop boxes are not allowed under Wisconsin law, a trend we’re also seeing in Florida.
In Georgia, most voters who show up at the wrong polling places on Election Day will be turned away — instead of permitted to cast provisional ballots And in Florida, a new law makes it harder for voters to continue receiving ballots by mail and limits the availability of drop boxes.
CNN reported on the small Lincoln County election board in Georgia which was poised to close six of the county’s seven rural voting precincts to consolidate them into a single site that many poorer or working voters would find inaccessible. On Wednesday, a coalition of voting rights groups successfully petitioned for a temporary block of that plan.
But the debate encapsulates the problems here that go beyond the rules into how they are being implemented.
Lincoln County, with a population of 7,700 mostly white citizens, consistently votes Republican. The county is one of six in Georgia that have disbanded or reconfigured their local election boards following the new laws, and several Democrats have been ousted from the boards. One reconstituted board eliminated Sunday voting during a recent municipal election — an option popular among Black churchgoers, a key Democratic constituency. the all-Republican county commission now appoints three out of five election board members.
The precincts to be closed are old and cramped they say, or lack air conditioning.
Lincoln County Commission Chairman Walker Norman, a Republican, said 99 percent of people have access to a car.
None of these things have anything to do with concern about widespread voter fraud or “voter integrity.” They just seem to support the idea that this is voter suppression.
The pattern is much the same in states with Republican majority legislatures across the country. Voting rights activists say we should be seeing Republican efforts to expand influence and control over election administration for partisan purposes.
Often, it is the small details of voter registration or location of polls that affect voting patterns.
More importantly, some of those state legislatures are giving themselves power to overturn election results they don’t like and to make challenges to elections easier.
The Supreme Court ruling in 2013 struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, freeing Georgia and other states, counties and cities with a history of racial discrimination to adopt more restrictive laws. It is the Trump Big Steal campaign that has driven the current round of legislation.
That led to the twin protective federal voting bills in Congress that went down to defeat twice this week — on allowing the debate on the bills to proceed and on any change to Senate filibuster rules that would make it possible to pass a voting law.
Instead, a group of centrists including Senators Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) are focusing on much more targeted changes to the Electoral Count Act and at such things as making it a federal crime to threaten election officials and poll workers, potentially providing grants to states to beef up their election security, and maybe making Election Day a holiday.
Meanwhile, a grand jury in Fulton County surrounding Atlanta, is about to start consideration of criminal charges in the phone calls and visits to Georgia state officials to overturn last November’s presidential vote in the state. That could happen even as Georgia Republican leaders move to remove the county’s election officials.
Georgia legislators say they are not through passing more voting bills, including proposals for a constitutional amendment to block state voting by non-citizens (which already is against the law) or a proposal to ban ballot drop boxes.
What the debate in Washington is missing is the degree to which Americans are putting themselves into a downward spiral on voting rights — all in allegiance to the would-be MAGA nation.
The new rules alone are anything but supportive of a participatory democracy, but what we do with the rules is worse.