“This is the Jim Crow in the 21st century.” In a statement following the passing of new voting restriction legislation passed in Georgia this past week, President Biden quickly denounced the new legislation, condemning the bill’s racially motivated conditions.
Passing through the Georgia state legislature on party lines, the new restrictions laid forth in the bill include limiting the number of drop boxes and requiring identification for absentee ballot voters. The more drastic provisions made it illegal for volunteers to give food or water to voters waiting in line, as well as providing the state more power over the election boards of individual local counties. One of the most highly contested provisions was the state legislatures’ attempt to restrict Sunday voting to stop “Souls to the Polls” events. By restricting Sunday voting, the state legislators would have disproportionately discouraged and prevented Black voters from exercising their right to vote since many black voters in Georgia usually go to the polls after attending Sunday church. While it did not pass or become a part of the final legislation, this proposal clearly indicated the bill’s racial undertones. While less subtle than the proposed restrictions like Sunday voting, activists and Democratic leaders widely regard the other provisions as restrictions that will target black voters and ultimately decrease their voter turnout and engagement.
While it has raised numerous protests and condemnations from political leaders and voting activists around the country, this type of legislation in Georgia, a Republican stronghold, was not completely unexpected. Ever since the presidential election in November, the fear that motivated such a drastic bill has been slowly brewing in Republican leaders in Georgia. The first catalyst was ultimately Republican Donald Trump losing the state of Georgia to Democrat challenger Joe Biden. Georgia has historically been a red state, a state where Republicans once thought they had invincible power and influence. While this was true for most of the late 1900s and early 2000s, the changing demographics of Georgia and the mobilization of black voters through leaders such as Stacy Abrams created the opening for a power shift.
And that’s precisely what happened in the 2020 elections. High voter turnout among black voters flipped the state blue, making a political mockery out of the Republican party. They had just lost the state that they once cherished as the gemstone of their conservatism crown. The anger and embarrassment of such a loss were fueled by Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud in Georgia. He demanded recounts and wanted Georgia state officials to overturn the results of the election. However, these state leaders ultimately refused, refuting Trump’s claim of voter fraud and confirming their election results’ legitimacy.
So, how did the state of Georgia go from defending itself against claims of voter fraud and advocating its fair election results to suddenly passing one of the most restrictive voting legislation?
Well, the answer lies in the Georgia runoffs, in which two Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, both defeated their Republican incumbents in a highly contested and publicized Senate race. As of January, Republican leaders realized that their state had just elected a Democrat for President and both Senate seats. The growing influence and power of Democrats in a once highly Republican state escalated the already growing fears among Republican state leaders: the fear that they were losing control.
Suffering defeats in three elections, state Republican leaders realized they must take action to combat their decline. They attributed the growing number of Democrat voters in their state to increasing voter turnout among Georgia’s black community due to Stacy Abram’s voting initiative in the state. The best way to do so, in their opinion, was the new voting legislation that we see today.
Republican leaders refute the claims that they are trying to suppress communities of black people or poorer people from voting. They instead claim that these laws were proposed to increase voter confidence in the election system. It is ironic because a few months ago, these same Republican leaders were advocating for the legitimacy of their state’s election results and calling Donald Trump’s claims of voter fraud “baseless.” These same Republican leaders are now turning on their word, arguing that the system needs laws to increase confidence and legitimacy of election and voting results.
The bill’s apparent racial bias made it a target for Democratic leaders like President Joe Biden, former gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, and other Democratic leaders. Activist organizations have already started taking legal actions to challenge the new provisions of the legislation in court.
But, the scary thing is that Georgia is not an outlier right now. Instead, it is just the first state to start this process of passing new voter restriction laws. In historically red states such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas, where the threat of turning “blue” looms over state Republican leaders, state legislatures are expected to pass new legislation that mirrors Georgia’s bill. According to the Brennan Center, Republican leaders have introduced similar voter restriction legislation in 43 states as of February. As the first state to pass such legislation, Georgia is the prototype and serves as an example for other states to do the same. Georgia is the experiment in which the Republican party can figure out what works and what does not work in their national campaign to enact stricter voting laws.
With all eyes on Georgia, this new problem of restricting voters through new legislation may seem like one isolated case. However, this is a growing problem that cannot be solved by mere protests in Georgia or by challenging the legislation in court. Instead, the fact that other states are expected to follow suit highlights the need for federal intervention, such as the newest HR-1 bill. As Biden continues to condemn the law and claims he will take action to stop this “atrocity,” will Biden be able to work with Congress to pass new voting laws that invalidate this restrictive state-level legislation? How will he tackle this growing problem without overstepping on states’ powers to control and mandate their voting rules? Ultimately, the future of voter turnout, especially that of black voters, hangs in the balance as the country deals with the repercussions and power shift from the 2020 elections.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Right now, the Republican party is fearful of how much power they are losing. This campaign of national restrictive voter laws is their way of solidifying and hanging onto their power by stopping those who vote against them. As Democrats and activists rally against these laws, will Republicans be forced to abandon this initiative? Or will they be successful, ultimately reversing the progress and growth that we as a country have made in the past few decades?