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Thursday, November 10, 2022

Opinion Georgia’s record early vote doesn’t vindicate its ‘Jim Crow 2.0’ law

Opinion Georgia’s record early vote doesn’t vindicate its ‘Jim Crow 2.0’ law

People stand in line for early voting in Atlanta on Nov. 4. (Bob Strong/Reuters)

“Now that votes have been cast in record numbers and the people have spoken in a wonderful display of democracy, I need to take a sledgehammer to a narrative taking hold about Georgia.

It’s the one that says the state’s onerous voter law implemented after the 2020 presidential election didn’t live up to its “Jim Crow 2.0” reputation because it didn’t manage to suppress huge turnout for early voting.

Voting should be as easy as possible. Period. The Georgia law restricted absentee voting. It placed checks on who can provide food and water to people waiting to vote. And while it made ballot drop boxes permanent, it reduced their number, limited where they could be located and cut down the hours they are available.

Now listen: Just because people make their way around obstacles doesn’t mean said obstacles are no big deal. If that’s not apparent in this would-be voting horror story, look to another example — abortion rights.

Long before the abolition of a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, red and reddish states were putting up obstacles to that right. These included waiting periodsmandated counselingfetal heartbeat laws, bans on abortion at various stages of gestation, and location and size restrictions that shut down clinics that offered abortion care and forced women to drive hundreds of miles to alternative providers.

Women who have successfully run that gantlet to get the care they needed or wanted are heroic. But it’s clear they should not have had to jump through any of those hoops to get it. Worst of all is that other jurisdictions considering restrictions can point to these women and say, “See, they’re still getting the care they need” — before throwing up their own obstacles. Don’t be surprised if that happens anew with voting, too.

So, yes, I’m thrilled Georgia voters showed up in record numbers despite the new restrictions. But they should not have needed organizations such as FairVote, Black Voters Matter and others to help them navigate and overcome those roadblocks in the first place. And just because folks showed up this year doesn’t mean such turnout will hold; jumping through these hoops cycle after cycle will be exhausting.

Stacey Abrams, who on Tuesday lost her rematch against Gov. Brian Kemp, perhaps best captured the pernicious power of voting restrictions. As she said during a 2019 interview with me, “The challenge of voter suppression is it not only blocks you from voting — it convinces you it’s not worth trying.”

“Jim Crow 2.0” might not have blocked as many people from the voting booth as feared. But have no doubt it did its insidious convincing. And if allies of democracy don’t keep objecting to Georgia’s law — even on principle — expect that insidiousness to spread.“

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