Combating Racism – Combating Voter Suppression – Part 3

Since my newsletter of March 21st, where I shared the provisions of voter suppression bills that were passed in the Georgia legislatures, Governor Brian Kemp has signed into law “The Election Integrity Act of 2021.” At the risk of sounding like a boring woman who has no life, I read the entire 98-page law to ensure I would know the accuracy of media reports. If you care to read the bill, you can do so here.

This new law begins by alleging “a significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems. . . with many [voters] concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud.” While there are some good things, such as expanded in-person early voting access for most counties, the law poses huge limits on voting, particularly targeted at Black Georgia voters who make up roughly one-third of the state’s population. The most significant changes to voting, as written into the new law, include:

  • Voters now have less time to request absentee ballots. The earliest that voters can request a mail-in ballot will now be 78 days before an election, instead of the previous 180 days. Applications must be received no later than 11 days prior to the primary, election, or runoff.
  • Counties will now begin mailing absentee ballots four weeks before an election, rather than seven.
  • It’s now illegal for election officials to mail out absentee ballot applications to all voters. Now applications can only be sent to voters upon request.
  • There are strict new ID requirements for absentee ballots, replacing the previous signature verification process. Voters must now provide their name, date of birth, address and the number of their driver’s license or state ID card, plus a photocopy of their identification. In the absence of a driver’s license or ID card, the voter must testify to the lack of these identifications and list the last four digits of his/her social security number.
  • Early voting “shall be conducted beginning at 9:00A.M. and ending at 5:00 P.M. on weekdays, other than observed state holidays, during such period…”
  • Early voting “shall be conducted on the second and third Saturdays during the hours of 9:00 A.M. through 5:00 P.M. and, if the registrar or absentee ballot clerk so chooses, the second Sunday, the third Sunday, or both the second and third Sundays . . . but no longer than 7:00 A.M. through 7:00 P.M.”
  • The number of absentee ballot boxes is now limited. All 159 counties are required to have at least one drop box, but they cannot have more than one per 100,000 active voters or one for every early voting site -- whichever is smaller. (NOTE: this goes against U.S. Election Assistance Commission guidelines, which recommends one drop box for every 15,000 – 20,000 registered voters.)
  • Drop boxes will be moved inside to early voting sites instead of outside on government property and they are now accessible only during early voting days and hours instead of 24/7. (NOTE: A potential result for voters who cannot access drop boxes during work hours: they must rely on the postal service which has become increasingly problematic.)
  • Mobile voting units are now illegal, except when the Governor declares an emergency. (NOTE: They were purchased for $750,000 in 2020, and reduced voting lines.)
  • Offering food or water to voters waiting in line is now a misdemeanor, unless you are a poll worker.
  • Local election officials can begin processing, but not tabulating, mail ballots starting two weeks before an election, which increases the likelihood that they will have all ballots counted soon after polls close.
  • Runoffs are now to be held on the 28th day after a general or special primary election. (NOTE: this shortens the time between an election and a runoff from nine weeks to four, allowing less time for early and mail voting and less time to apply for a mail ballot.)
  • With an eye toward voter fraud, the state attorney general will manage an election hotline.
  • The legislature is given more control over the State Election Board. The chair of the State Election Board will be appointed by a majority of the state House and Senate. (NOTE: Before this law, the secretary of state, an elected position, was the chair of the State Election Board. This change could make impartiality more difficult if election results are at odds with the majority of the state House and Senate.)
  • The secretary of state, elected by the voters, is now removed as a voting member of the State Election Board and is now an “ex-officio non-voting member of the board.”
  • The legislature is now empowered to “suspend county or municipal [election officials] and appoint an individual to serve as the temporary superintendent in a jurisdiction.”

Not only does this new law impact voters of color, but the measure also impacts the large number of rural white voters, by making it harder for them to cast absentee ballots and vote by mail.

Republican lawmakers have proposed at least 361 bills in at least 47 states that would restrict access to mail, early in-person and Election Day voting, according to data compiled as of March 24 by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.

Most of the corporate criticism of the Georgia law came from Atlanta-based companies like Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola after it was passed, despite weeks of call-outs and demonstrations from activists leading up to Gov. Kemp’s signature on March 25. These companies never spoke up throughout the process of forming the bill. And while Coca-Cola issued a statement that said, “We want to be crystal clear and state unambiguously that we are disappointed in the outcome of the Georgia voting legislation,” the company has donated tens of thousands of dollars to the 29 legislators who co-sponsored the bills that restrict ballot access and voting rights in Georgia.

After Major League Baseball announced that it will move this summer’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in response to the passage of Georgia’s restrictive voting law, a joint statement of executives from at least 193 companies — including Dow, HP, Under Armour, Twitter and Estée Lauder — urged the protection of voting rights across the country. The statement below was organized by Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan group of businesses focused on voter engagement. (For a list of the organization’s 1,119 members, click here.)

The Right to Vote is the Cornerstone of our Democracy

We believe every American should have a voice in our democracy and that voting should be safe and accessible to all voters. We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.

Our elections are not improved when lawmakers impose barriers that result in longer lines at the polls or that reduce access to secure ballot drop boxes. There are hundreds of bills threatening to make voting more difficult in dozens of states nationwide. We call on elected leaders in every state capitol and in Congress to work across the aisle and ensure that every eligible American has the freedom to easily cast their ballot and participate fully in our democracy.

These pledges have raised the bar for expectations among consumers and activists for corporate accountability, building pressure to speak up about public policy and its effect on communities. It is important for corporations to speak out before similar bills introduced in nearly every state are passed, and to go beyond issuing statements.

In addition to condemning voting proposals in dozens of states, companies can use their influence to testify in front of legislators, withdraw financial support from lawmakers who support such legislation, and throw their weight behind federal election reform legislation.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault coordinated a letter signed by 72 Black business executives calling on companies to fight voting bills propelled by Republican lawmakers in at least 43 states after Georgia’s law was passed.

A coalition of voting rights and Black civil rights organizers, including the Georgia NAACP, Black Voters Matter, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight, and the New Georgia Project Action Fund, have joined to fight the bills, and have called for corporate support.

YOU CAN HELP

Many politicians, especially at the state level, have placed intentional barriers around voters’ rights, with a particular emphasis on voters of color. A number of organizations are fighting for voting rights, and here’s how you can help them.

  • The League of Women Voters, is a nonpartisan activist group that fights for voting rights across the country. They support expanding voter access, fighting voter suppression, and other issues like redistricting and money in politics. If you want to assist them, you can contact your senator or representative and urge them to support the issues they fight for, like automatic voter registration and expanding early voting, or you can also donate to their cause.
  • The American Civil Liberties Union, among its many causes and issues they back, engages in legal cases and activism against voter suppression. To take action with the ACLU, you can send messages to your state officials and Congressmen and women about important issues, or donate.
  • Election Protection is a national, nonpartisan group of voting rights activists that gives information and help at all stages of voting, from registering to casting a vote. They run a hotline (managed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a national civil rights organization) for anyone who has issues at the polls during an election. If you’d like to help, you can sign up to provide legal assistance or poll monitoring, or make a donation through the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
  • Fair Fight is a national voter rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate. The organization promotes fair elections around the country, encourages voter participation in elections, educates voters abut elections and their voting rights, and engages in voter mobilization activities. If you’d like to support Fair Fight’s work, you can donate or sign up to get involved in their protection efforts.
  • The Campaign Legal Center is devoted to advancing democracy through law, litigation, policy advocacy, communications and partnerships. The organization is committed to democracy, not to any political party or electoral result. Peer organizations, journalists, and government officials rely on their analyses and legal skills. To support the work of the Campaign Legal Center, you can donate here.
  • Black Voters Matter is engaged in increasing voter registration and turnout, and advocating for policies to expand voting rights and access. To support their work, you can volunteer or donate to either the organization’s 501 (c) 4 or to their 501 (c) 3 partner, Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute.
  • The Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus is a legal and civil rights organization serving Asian and Pacific Islander communities and others who have historically been disenfranchised. As part of their work, Advancing Justice – ALC focuses on voting rights, including sponsoring state legislation that expands the availability of translated voting materials and operating poll monitoring programs. If you want to help, you can donate or sign up to volunteer.

In addition, you can locate the corporations headquartered in your state. Write, call or email the CEO to stop funding legislators who suppress voting, and to lobby against voter suppression laws.

Indeed, the national assault on voting rights demands a national response — from Congress, from the courts and from defenders of democracy everywhere. Now is the time to act.

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