Sunday was the 53rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. More than half a century after his assassination, the causes he fought for are still not won. First among those are racial equality and civil rights. King’s intervention helped enact the 1965 voting rights act, which in 2013 was gutted by five right-wing activist Supreme Court justices. Their anti-voting-rights ruling opened the door for a return to discriminatory practices in much of Dixie and in Republican-controlled areas in the north and west. Recent events have blown that door off its hinges.
Fueled by former President Trump’s Big Lie about voter fraud, Republican state legislators are busily pushing their agenda of suppressing the votes of the poor, the elderly, and racial minorities in their battle to preserve minority rule. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, right-wing Republicans across the nation have introduced no fewer than 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, including Maryland. Five of them have been signed into law — two in Arkansas, one in Iowa, Utah, and notoriously, in Georgia, Democrats have been busy, too, introducing more than 800 bills to expand voting rights in a different set of 47 states.
Georgia’s bill is unquestionably the most controversial and restrictive legislation to pass. It restricts absentee voting by requiring voters to provide a state identification number with their application. That provision is aimed directly at rural Black voters. Local officials are no longer allowed to send out applications for absentee ballots, either. They may be sent only to those who apply for them. This makes it harder to get an absentee ballot. Also, Georgia’s law reduces the period of time voters may apply for one. And if you get an absentee ballot, it’s harder to turn it in. Georgia “sharply” restricted the number and availability of drop boxes; just to make it more inconvenient, those drop boxes must be placed only in county offices or early-voting sites, which are also more inaccessible to voters, and times were reduced for dropping off ballots. Early voting times and days were also cut, which will force many people to stand in line to vote.
Not content with kneecapping voter rights, Georgia’s new law allows for “mass sanctions” to voter eligibility. That means a single citizen now has the right to request a county clerk to remove an unlimited number of people from the list of registered voters, just because said citizen believes they are ineligible to vote. And to make sure that Georgia’s county registrars do what Georgia’s Republican legislature wants, the state now has the power to suspend local elections superintendents; you can call that the Brad Raffensperger provision.
Just to punish the kindhearted, Georgia made it a criminal offense to offer snacks or water to a voter waiting in line. I shall not remind members of the religious right of any passages in the New Testament referring to what one does to the least of Jesus’ brethren. But as bad as it is, Georgia could have done worse. It somehow managed not to kill “souls to the polls,” Sunday early voting.
Backlash against Jim Crow 2.0 came swiftly: Georgia-based companies UPS, Home Depot, Delta Airlines, and Coca-Cola all issued statements objecting to the law. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the bill was “based on a lie” that there was widespread voter fraud. He continued, “…the bill includes provisions that will make it harder for many underrepresented voters, particularly Black voters, to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives. That is wrong.”
Non-Georgia based companies JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Merck, Cisco, and Microsoft all spoke out against it. An open letter to the New York Times appeared last Wednesday, with 72 business executives signing a statement saying in part, “The new law and others like it are both undemocratic and un-American, and they are wrong.”
Corporate America was joined by the sports world. The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons issued a statement that says, in part, “the right to vote is simply sacred. We should be working to make voting easier, not harder for every eligible citizen.” MLB relocated the 2021 All Star game from Atlanta, prompting the former president to call for his supporters to “boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with free and fair elections.”
The former president said Republicans could not win if everyone voted; his party responded with a concerted effort to keep people away from the polls. The hard fact is that voters across America disagree with GOP policies. If they want to win elections, the Republican party might try moderating its policies. Until then, they will be a minority party.
America is at a crossroad. We can stand for democracy and the ideals of government of the people, by the people and for the people, or we can buy the Big Lie and let Georgia’s anti-American law stand. It is not possible to have both.
Mitch Edelman, vice chairperson of the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee, writes from Finksburg. His column appears every other Tuesday. Email him at email@example.com.