Georgia election officials are patting themselves on the back for record turnout, so far, in the 2022 midterm election, suggesting that its wave of voting restriction laws have not suppressed the Black vote.
“As of Tuesday morning (Nov. 1), Georgia continues to break records with 1,638,286 voters casting their ballot during Early Voting, with 130,413 showing up on Monday, October 31st,”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger touted, adding that there were no “substantial delays” statewide, even in the metro-Atlanta area.
What’s more, Georgia Public Broadcasting reports that a higher share of Black voters and older voters have turned out in Georgia’s early voting period.
“It’s the work of our Elections Division and the county election directors that have gotten us here,” he added. “Voting in Georgia is safe, secure, and accessible – and Georgians know that.”
But voting rights groups see it differently. They do say Georgia has seen record turnout, but it’s despite the new obstacles to ballot access.
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, told BET.com that she credits the work of voting rights organizations on the ground for helping people navigate the barriers and confusion state lawmakers created to suppress the Black vote.
“But isn't that the story of the Black experience in America?” she asked. “Black success in America is not a result of America being accessible and treating us as equals. Black success in America is indicative of Black people's ability to use whatever to navigate and work around racism and be able to build in spite of those barriers. It’s not that those barriers don't exist.”
Republican lawmakers in several states passed an array of restrictions that have made it more complicated for some voters to cast a ballot in elections that will determine control of Congress.
Voters face “significant changes in the voting rights landscape” this year after a record-breaking flurry of legislative activity in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a New York University-based nonpartisan law and policy institute.
Starting in 2021, lawmakers passed at least 42 restrictive voting laws in 21 states, with 33 of those laws having restrictive provisions that impact the midterms in 20 states.
At the same time, a racist component was involved. A Brennan Center analysis found that the new laws were more prevalent in red states with racially diverse populations.
“Predominantly White states are unlikely to introduce or pass restrictive provisions, regardless of which party controls the legislature. But racially diverse states controlled by Republicans are far more likely to introduce and pass restrictive provisions,” the study found.
Georgia has attracted nationwide interest in the race for governor that pits incumbent Brian Kemp against Democrat Stacey Abrams and the U.S. Senate competition between incumbent Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock and GOP candidate Herschel Walker.
During the early voting period, voting rights organizations observed the effects of the new laws there that include unrestricted challenges to the voter rolls by citizens, voter ID requirements for absentee ballots and a ban on distributing food and water on voting lines.
Georgia has a long history of targeting its Black citizens for voter suppression. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court removed federal oversight of election rule changes in mostly southern states like Georgia. The pre-clearance procedure was put in place to prevent voter discrimination.
According to the Brennan Center, the high court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder “opened the floodgates to laws restricting voting throughout the United States.”
Activists say the new wave of voter restriction laws have added another “layer” to voter suppression laws enacted after 2013.
“Voter suppression is ongoing, but it just looks different,” Brown said. “What we’re seeing is layers of voter suppression. It's not just the traditional voter suppression. Georgia has a law ("Election Integrity Act of 2021") in place that's actually legalized voter suppression.”
Brown said these restrictive voting changes “are layered on top of old voter suppression tactics” like intimidation at polling stations in rural districts, misinformation, and limiting Sunday voting when scores of Black churches traditionally transport groups of voters from their communities to their polling stations.
Sophia Lin Lakin, co-director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, told BET.com that these additional obstacles “attack every step of the process, from registering to vote to the point when you’re in line waiting to vote.”
She pointed to Georgia’s ban on food and water distribution, which is most likely to impact densely populated urban districts like heavily-Democratic metro-Atlanta.
“Even assisting voters and affirming their humanity and dignity as they are trying to cast their ballots, in what are hours long lines, is what we've seen in Georgia,” Lakin said. “That’s yet another obstacle that has been put in place for voters to overcome,”
She said the new “labyrinth of obstacles” to casting a ballot makes it more difficult to navigate the system for “voters who are already burdened by so much because of systemic inequality and institutionalized racism and discrimination that exists.”
Brown said one of the most egregious new rules allows Georgia residents to challenge voter eligibility for an unlimited number of times.
According to The New York Times, mostly Republican-aligned groups have challenged at least 65,000 voter registrations across eight Georgia counties. But in the vast majority of cases, election officials disproved the claims of incorrect addresses and other faults in the voter rolls. However, the challenges are enough to discourage many voters from casting a ballot.
Brown encourages people to plan before heading to the polls. That includes checking your poll location ahead of time, using the website vote.org. Ask for a provisional ballot if a poll worker claims that you’re not eligible to vote. Finally, if a voting rights volunteer isn’t at the polling station, call the election protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).