The same week that a major backer of former President Donald Trump’s false election fraud narrative admitted it was unreasonable, Republican lawmakers in Georgia turned legislation inspired by the false narrative into law.
Republicans didn’t like the election results in 2020, so in Georgia they’ve changed the rules to try to keep it from happening again. It’s the first presidential battleground to change voting laws since the election but it’s unlikely to be the last, with Arizona and others already considering their own restrictions.
When the pandemic scrambled restrictions on when and where Americans could vote and a race-baiting President helped spark a massive uptick in turnout, Republicans lost two Senate seats in what had long been a GOP stronghold and voters handed the state’s electoral votes to President Joe Biden.
To their credit, after the election, Georgia state Republican leaders stood by the results and stood up to Trump, drawing his wailing criticism on Twitter and rejecting his ridiculous claims that the election had been rigged and Democrats stole it. Now, however, Georgia Republicans, led by Gov. Brian Kemp — who faces his own reelection campaign in 2022 — have acted decisively to protect against election fraud they courageously said didn’t happen less than six months ago.
This story is being repeated in swing states across the country. Iowa’s Republican governor has already signed legislation into law. Arizona legislators are considering a raft of bills.
Every vote counts when the margins are as close as they’ve been in key states in recent elections.
New restrictions echo old restrictions
Kemp ignored the alarmed warnings by Black leaders in the state that new curbs on access to the vote were echoes of a racist past.
In the South, where taxes and tests once kept Black Americans from voting, this new 21st-century form of disenfranchisement is being hastily enacted to make it more difficult to vote.
Republicans argued the new law will give more integrity to the system and give Georgians confidence in the electoral process.
But after multiple recounts of the 2020 results and audits in key counties found no fraud, it’s also true that what shook GOP confidence in Georgia more than anything was Trump losing.
Amazing time to admit there was no fraud
As the Georgia lawmakers acted to address the flawed perception of voter fraud, those who pushed voter fraud faced jeopardy in court.
Lawyer Sidney Powell, who pushed the most virulent and false claims of fraud in 2020, faces a massive defamation lawsuit by the election infrastructure company Dominion Voting Systems, which was active in Georgia in 2020.
Powell repeatedly pressed the voter fraud myth as fact on the airwaves and in court after the election, but facing Dominion’s lawsuit, she said in a filing that “reasonable” people would not accept her statements as “fact” because the legal process hadn’t yet played out.
Separately, Dominion sued Fox News this week, asking for $1.6 billion in damages for pushing the same narrative.
“Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process,” Dominion wrote in its suit. “If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
Even Fox hosts want to move on. When Trump tried to repeat the fraud claims on Fox News on Thursday, he was cut off by host Laura Ingraham.
“Speaking as a lawyer, we’re not going to relitigate the past,” she told the former President.
There will be more lawsuits
Voting rights groups are already challenging Georgia’s new law.
But courts — and particularly this new Supreme Court — has shown little appetite for overturning how states want to run their elections.
In Georgia’s case it will be a question of whether the state can seize control of elections from local election boards and defrock the state official voters put in place to oversee elections, giving power instead to officials appointed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature.
“It’s really a power grab by the Legislature and is, again, very dangerous to democracy and any perception of fairness,” said Andrea Young, the head of the Georgia American Civil Liberties Union, during the most recent episode of CNN’s Politically Sound podcast. Listen. Subscribe.
Georgia’s bill did not go as far as some activists had feared. Republican lawmakers abandoned proposals to curb Sunday voting, a direct assault on voting drives often led by Black churches.
A proposal to require an excuse to cast absentee ballots was also cut.
Having voted to expand weekend voting, Kemp and other Republicans now say the bill will actually expand access to polls.
It does put up roadblocks for voters. But opponents point to other new restrictions and argue the Republicans are clearly hoping there will be be fewer Black and Brown voters in the years to come.
“It’s like the Christmas tree of goodies for voter suppression,” Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan said Thursday before the bill passed.
The measure will:
- Shorten the period to apply for and return mail-in ballots.
- Include ID requirements for absentee voting, which adds a new hurdle for people voting by mail. Previously, ballots were verified using signature verification and no fraud was detected in Georgia.
- Limit access to absentee ballot drop boxes, while codifying their use and mandating at least one in every county.
- Make it more difficult for voters who show up at the wrong precincts to vote with provisional ballots.
- Make it illegal to hand out food and drinks to voters in line, which is specifically meant to cut down on efforts by turnout organizations.
What the President can do
Biden said he’ll do everything he can to fight voter suppression during his first White House news conference Thursday.
“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick,” he said, adding that Republican voters he talks to would reject the proposals.
“I’m not talking about the elected officials. I’m talking about voters. Voters. And so I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
But Biden will not yet endorse reinterpreting Senate rules so that a majority of 51 Democrats can pass a massive voting rights bill through the Senate.
It’s also not clear there are 50 Democrats who support the Democrats’ proposal for an update to the Voting Rights Act.
Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, whose vote would be required, released a statement Thursday questioning elements of the House-passed bill, which in addition to mandating minimum access to polls in every state would take power from state legislators to draw congressional districts.
“Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the US government,” Manchin said in a statement.
That leaves Democrats focused for now on fighting the Georgia bill and its clones in other states in courts. They’ll argue that if American representative democracy is meant to allow all eligible a say in selecting their government, making it more difficult to vote is an assault on that idea.
The question is whether a court system with a large number of Republican-appointed judges will agree — particularly after the Supreme Court, which ignored Trump’s fraud claims, created the environment that led to this crush of more restrictive laws when it ended protections created by the landmark original 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The end of this story is a long way off.