One of the two replies reacting to my post, Caw! Caw! Jim Crow Returns to Georgia, asserts that I am “spreading lies” about the new Georgia voting law and that “Even the Washington Post gave Biden four Pinocchios for what he said about it. Today’s Washington Examiner explores what’s behind all the lies and misrepresentations:” The Examiner article mentioned can be read at https://washex.am/31Lo8g1
Since the responder is known to me to be an intelligent person with extensive education and professional experience, I cannot just let the accusation of lying pass without comment. Quite a bit of comment, actually. I apologize for the length of this post, but accusations of lying require detailed responses. I have strong opinions about many things but work very hard to cite authorities and avoid false statements.
When someone does something inconsistent with normal practice, the action often raises questions of motive and intent. Doubly so when the asserted rationale has no factual foundation. Examples from the Trump years abound. The call with the President of Ukraine comes to mind. Demand is made for an investigation of something that has no factual basis for the apparent purpose of undermining a political opponent. No other plausible explanation of the event is presented and the documentary record of it is sequestered in a secret server by attorneys for the then president. Strange behavior causes suspicion to arise about what was really going on.
It is more than curious, then, that the new Georgia law was rushed through as if an imminent emergency faced the state’s electoral system. I am not aware that such an emergency existed. What then was going on?
The Washington Examiner tells us that the “voting reform law contains simple, commonsense measures, most of which … will make it easier for people to vote.” That much is actually true of some parts of the law.
But then the Examiner exposes what I had argued was the underlying reality: the claim that the conduct of the 2020 election showed real risks of fraud that needed to be stamped out immediately when in fact no such fraud was found in Georgia (after, I believe, three audit/recounts [https://cnn.it/3dMbAuL] and the Governor’s own aggressive investigations). No fraud was found in Georgia or anywhere else. More than 60 lawsuits claiming fraud were brought and all were promptly dismissed, mainly for lack of evidence or other legal deficiencies. One of the principal attorneys bringing those cases on behalf of Trump has stated in court filings that, in effect, the fraud allegations made were so outlandish that no rational person would have believed them as being factual allegations. https://bit.ly/3fEhfFr
The only fraud that occurred in Georgia was the attempt by Donald Trump to induce the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” just enough votes to overturn the official results and award Trump the state’s electoral votes. It’s on tape and cannot be denied. https://wapo.st/3wn2Nrr
Thus, the stated rationale for this massive, intricate detailed rewrite of Georgia’s already intricate, detailed election statute was false. There was no fraud requiring the law to be changed and certainly not so urgently.
The Examiner, and my commenter, note that President Biden was wrong is saying that the new law forced polling places to close at 5 p.m. Fine. The President appears to have been wrong on that one point. In fact, that was the only thing the Washington Post fact checkers addressed. See https://wapo.st/3cNHTu0
Maybe Biden was recalling an earlier version of the Georgia statute or was misinformed by staff. Whatever. He apparently made a mistake about one provision in the massive changes to what turned out to be 95 pages of legislative text.
The Examiner was also up in arms over the objections noted to criminalizing the provision of food and water to voters waiting in lines at polling places, claiming that’s the law in New York and “many states.” My research suggests the Examiner is wrong about New York but even if true, it doesn’t much matter. The rest of the Examiner article is just argument about the Democrats’ motives and other things that I decline to waste time addressing. Let’s address the facts and whether I have spread “lies” about the Georgia law, bearing in mind, again, that the entire stated rationale for the changes, in Georgia and a multitude of other Republican states, is a mirage, a political fantasy about voter fraud that never happened.
In a related vein, by the way, the state of New York is moving toward no-excuse absentee voting, a process that requires a state constitutional amendment. In each vote on this, with one exception, all the negative votes have come from Republicans. https://bit.ly/3rHh1jq
Turning back to Georgia, in drafting my post I did not actually rely on what President Biden said about the Georgia law. I cited a Washington Post article (https://wapo.st/2QIONbe) for a number of specific actions in SB202, all of which I confirmed independently. Recognizing the possibility that I could have made a mistake in reading the complex and detailed language of SB202, I re-examined the legislation after the “spreading lies” accusation. I found the following about what I had written:
- new identification requirements for casting ballots by mail. TRUE
- curtails the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots. TRUE
- allows electors to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters and requires counties to hold hearings on such challenges within 10 days. TRUE
- makes it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line. TRUE
- blocks the use of mobile voting vans. TRUE
- prevents local governments from directly accepting grants from the private sector. TRUE
- strips authority from the secretary of state, making him a nonvoting member of the State Election Board. TRUE
- allows lawmakers to initiate takeovers of local election boards. TRUE
Given that the predicate for the legislation was false and that these “improvements” were rushed through and signed behind closed doors, I stand by my conclusion that the legislation “is voter suppression in the guise of “cleaning up” issues that never existed in the first place.”
My view of this is apparently supported by a large number of major companies that do business in Georgia, including Delta Air Lines and Major League Baseball. The Georgia legislature’s reaction to the criticism from those companies was to attack those companies. See, e.g., https://bit.ly/3dwyZjt and any number of many other publications reporting on this. The Georgia Republican Party often rants about “cancel culture” but when faced with “consequence culture,” it has a conniption fit of outrage.
There is more. In looking again at the actual statute adopted in Georgia, I noted some other interesting details.
The Secretary of State was chair of State Elections Board and elected by popular vote.. This is supposed to be a non-partisan position but is now selected by entirely partisan General Assembly. The Secretary of State is reduced to an ex officio nonvoting member of the Elections Board.
There is a new procedure for suspending and replacing county or municipal superintendents. New provisions provide for politically-controlled demands for review of performance of individual local election officials. Toe the expected political line or face loss of your position.
Neither the Secretary of State, election superintendent, board of registrars, other governmental entity, nor employee or agent thereof may send absentee ballot applications directly to any voter except upon request of such voter or a relative authorized to request an absentee ballot for such voter. New restrictions limit who can “handle or return” a voter’s completed absentee ballot application.
“All persons or entities, other than the Secretary of State, election superintendents, boards of registrars, and absentee ballot clerks, that send applications for absentee ballots to electors in a primary, election, or runoff shall mail such applications only to individuals who have not already requested, received, or voted an absentee ballot in the primary, election, or runoff.” The State Election Board is authorized to fine, apparently extra-judicially, anyone claimed to have violated the new rules on handling absentee ballot applications and ballots.
The law limits the days when advance voting can occur and forbids registrars from providing for advance voting on other days even if local circumstances indicate it would be helpful to people voting.
For counting absentee ballots, the process must be open to the view of the public, but no observer may make electronic records of what is observed.
“The Secretary of State shall be authorized to inspect and audit the information contained in the absentee ballot applications or envelopes at his or her discretion at any time during the 24 month retention period. Such audit may be conducted state wide or in selected counties or cities and may include the auditing of a statistically significant sample of the envelopes or a full audit of all of such envelopes. For this purpose, the Secretary of State or his or her authorized agents shall have access to such envelopes in the custody of the clerk of superior court or city clerk.”
What happens if “audit” reveals problems many months after the election result is declared? Who decides? How? The Secretary of State, as noted earlier, has been demoted to ex officio status on the Election Board. Will the solution be produced by the legislature?
Extending poll hours to accommodate a number of voters who were unable to vote during a particular period requires a court order. It is unclear what problem was this intended to resolve & how will it work in practice. Most likely, time and other practical considerations mean that no extended poll hours will be possible.
The “food and water” issue that has garnered much attention might have been more acceptable if it had stopped with “no campaigning,” which is common in many places, but instead, regardless of circumstances, no one, including non-partisan community groups, may provide food or water to voters in line. An exception was provided for “self-service water from an unattended receptacle,” whatever that means. Can party partisans set up passive food/water stations for self-service immediately adjacent to the voter waiting line and brand them with party or candidate labels?
There is a curious and unexplained disparity in treatment of two particular election offenses. If you “intentionally observe” a voter’s candidate selection, you have committed a felony. But if you “use photographic or other electronic monitoring or recording devices, cameras, or cellular telephones, except as authorized by law [??], to: (1) Photograph or record the face of an electronic ballot marker while a ballot is being voted or while an elector’s votes are displayed on such electronic ballot marker; or (2) Photograph or record a voted ballot,” you are only guilty of a misdemeanor.
Finally, special rules adopted by the State Election Board during a state of emergency “may be suspended upon the majority vote of the House of Representatives or Senate Committees on Judiciary within ten days of the receipt of such rule by the committees.” Politicians will apparently decide whether a declared public health emergency warrants changes to election processes.
To conclude, the legislation is not all bad. For example, I think that replacing signature- matching with identification requirements is a step in the right direction, provided that the identification requirements are reasonable for all classes of voters and do not have disparate effects on, for example, minority voters. It is not clear to me, and apparently to many others more expert in this, that the identification requirements adopted in Georgia satisfy that test, but I suppose we will find out soon enough.
Another provision I think is acceptable is the prohibition on campaigning while monitoring the processing of absentee ballots, although one wonders why it was necessary to impose a communications blackout on what absentee ballot monitors observe during that process and how that ban will work if litigation results and eye-witness testimony is needed.
It is, in short and overall, impossible to accept that, having lost the presidential election and two senatorial run-off elections, the Republican Party in Georgia was suddenly struck with over-powering public-spirited inspiration to straighten out the state’s already incredibly detailed, specific and, based on recent experience, reliable election processes with a bunch of politically neutral repairs that no one thought necessary before the election.
Thus, I remain steadfastly suspicious of massive and rushed legislative actions claimed to address problems that have been found, after multiple deep investigations, to be non-existent. The Georgia legislation, considered in detail and as a whole, seems to lack a rationale other than voter suppression. That’s what I called it, and I believe that’s what it is. Equally important for present purposes, everything I said about what was in the legislature was factually correct. It will take much more than an editorial in the Washington Examiner, the New York Post of the District of Columbia, to show otherwise.