Voter Regression: The Peach State Making Elections Racist Again

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

            -The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

The new Georgia voter suppression bill claims to address voter fraud, even though according to Georgia’s Secretary of State, there were 35 cases of fraud—out of almost 5 million votes cast—from the 2020 election cycle that will be sent to prosecution. The most recent election was one of the most successful in the state’s history, an election that saw record breaking turnout, which is the measuring stick for success in a democracy—elections that are truly by the people.

Based on this success, the Republican-led Georgia Assembly decided to change the rules as quickly as possible, as in definitely before the 2022 midterms. I am pretty sure the conversation went something like this, “How do we keep all these Black people from voting again? What if we make it where only 3/5ths of the number of Black voters turned out next election?”

There is also a sense that there were meetings where state legislators made a list of all the things that Stacey Abrams accomplished to combat voter suppression and decided, let’s definitely make all of these things illegal. Then there are portions of the Bill that work to push Georgia back into the historical precedent where private citizens have the power to threaten the rights of other citizens, modern equivalents of the lynch mob.

Section 15 allows that “Any elector of a county or municipality may challenge the qualifications of any person applying to register to vote.” Section 16 sets up the same allowance for challenging anyone’s right to vote. It specifically notes that there is no limit to the amount of people that can be challenged by any single elector. Therefore, allowing the possibility that entire neighborhoods—whole districts—could be challenged by someone with the right resources.

These sections define a complicated process that is clearly more beneficial to the challenger. Once a challenge is filed, the board of registrars must set a hearing within ten days of the filing. The person being challenged must be notified of the time, date, and place of the hearing within three days of the hearing—by mail. The burden of proving that the person being challenged is not qualified to vote is on the challenger; therefore, if a challenged person does not show up to the hearing—something this system has set up as a likely possibility—then the challenger can still present their case and perhaps strip a fellow citizen of his or her right to vote.

The challenged person has the right to appeal the decision, but remains ineligible until the decision is reversed. Challenges can be made up until the day of the actual election. If a challenged voter arrives at the polls and it is “practical to conduct a hearing on the challenge prior to the close of the polls, the registrars shall conduct such hearing and determine the merits of the challenge.” Basically, if someone chooses to accuse a person, even if the accusation is not valid, then it allows for one citizen to force another citizen to leave their polling place on election day after they get to the front of the line, go to a hearing, and then in order to vote, come back to start the process again. This is, of course, if the polls are still open. If there is not time to conduct a hearing, then the challenged person must cast a contested ballot, and his or her contested ballot remains contested until a hearing can be held.

There are no provisions within Georgia Senate Bill 202 that require an elector making a challenge to have sufficient evidence before filing the challenge.

I lived in South Georgia for almost ten years and voted in two presidential elections at a white church near my house, just as our founding fathers intended. While I was a resident, our rectangular pie in the bottom corner of the United States map never turned blue. The city where I lived felt stiflingly conservative. It was a place of giant churches, sweet tea, and confederate memorabilia. While Obama was in office my neighborhood was littered with “Pray for Our Nation” signs, asking God to save us from leadership by a Black man. I still lived in Georgia for part of the 2016 election cycle, and I witnessed Trump signs popping up on lawns like pimples. There was a house on my street with a yard sign that read “Hillary for Prison”, which I found personally offensive.

However, the population in the town where I lived is made up of 52% black residents. When I looked around, like at my kids’ school or even in the college classrooms where I taught, I saw representation that was incongruent with our elections and with our government systems. I knew the people were not being adequately represented and that people in power were working to maintain that status quo. Racism was the system, and it was guarded like a jewel.

The new voter suppression Bill is 98 pages and is reminiscent of listening to your brattiest friend define his new rules for Monopoly, mansplaining how each rule is set up specifically to guarantee that he wins and you end up only owning Baltic Place. Then he adds, as you are rolling your third turn, “Oh and you only get the $200 for passing Go if you have a neon green retainer.”  

Section 2 of the Bill states that after the last two election cycles, there were “allegations of rampant voter suppression” and “allegations of rampant voter fraud”. As if this is a bipartisan bill that also addresses the long-standing system of voter suppression that has kept Georgia power in the hands of white conservatives even after passing of the 15th amendment. When Raphael Warnock was finally elected this January, he became the first Black senator in Georgia history, although a much needed victory for the good of the state, also signifying a long-standing trend of lack of representation for the state’s Black population.

The first almost 20 pages are used to establish a State Election Board with a chair selected by the Georgia Assembly and enabling that board with the power to oversee and even remove the county election superintendents. This ensures that the state assembly, currently Republican-led and hoping to keep it that way, can override county involvement in the election process. This is important in the mission to keep the Peach State racist because then more democratic counties are vulnerable to state manipulation. Basically, this Bill is introducing more avenues for fraud into the state’s election system.

Another concerning issue is the new rule allowing superintendents (controlled by the state) to reframe districts if a polling place had voters waiting to cast their votes for more than one hour after the polls closed. For the polls who had long lines in 2020—mostly districts with high minority populations—the superintendents can “reduce the size of the said precinct”. Thus, giving the state additional opportunities to gerrymander. Breaking up minority districts lessens their power and is an important part of systemic racism, something the Georgia Assembly seems intent on maintaining.

Now, I live in North Florida about twenty miles from Georgia’s southern border. Florida ended its tenure as a swing state at about the time I moved back here, dragging its heels in the dirt to a full red state stop. I paid close attention to the election as it played out in Georgia, feeling a sense of pride for watching a system work much more closely to how it was intended. I chatted with friends and family who voted in the state, some waiting in long lines, and thought about my sister in Atlanta who was working at the polls. She worked twelve hours—on her feet—so that her fellow citizens could exercise their right to vote. A right that is guaranteed under the United States Constitution.

The election process in Georgia still needs reform—the state still has work to do to improve the process for all its citizens, but this Bill does not offer protection for its voters. Instead, it sets up complex laws that will make it more difficult to vote. Georgia Senate Bill 202 is a deliberate attempt to deny and abridge the right to vote.  

Next up, the sunshine state.