Georgia is the Battleground for Democracy
This year alone, Republican lawmakers have introduced at least 253 bills across 43 states working to restrict voting access. This is more than four times the number of similar bills from just last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The bills reach far and wide—limiting absentee ballots, implementing restrictive voter ID requirements, and reducing voter registration options are just a few of the measures these bills implement, straight out of the voter suppression playbook.
Nowhere is this battle as vicious or consequential as in Georgia, the country’s newest battleground state in the heart of the deep South. The historic Democratic wins in Georgia, secured by the relentless turnout of communities of color, left old guard Republicans shocked by their losses in a state they considered a sure win. In the wake of their loss, Republicans will now stop at nothing to stack the odds in their favor for next time—even if that means tearing down our entire voting system to silence our voices. And their motivations are clear: unless they continue to suppress votes, they will continue to lose the state to candidates who are ready to push for progress.
After two historic elections with record-breaking voter turnout that turned Georgia and the U.S Senate blue, Georgia Republicans openly admit they will do everything in their power to stop it from happening again.
Republican State Senator Jeff Mullis waxed nostalgic for the days when voting was harder for historically underrepresented and excluded Georgians, sharing with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “I wouldn’t call it going backward. I would call it going back to a more manageable, more respectable form of voting.”
The New Georgia Project Action Fund and our many hardworking allies are continuing the fight against these deliberate attempts to destroy our democracy. There were at least 50 bills proposed in the Georgia state legislature to restrict voter access at various stages of the voting process, and 11 actually made it through on Crossover Day, when bills advance to the next chamber. The most egregious of the bills, HB 531, filed by Rep. Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), passed the Georgia House on March 1. The 48-page bill was made available a little more than an hour before a hearing the day it passed a key committee—denying legislators, the media, advocates and Georgia voters the time to read, digest, and respond to its contents. Similarly, SB 241, a bill that will gut access to no-excuse absentee voting, which Georgians have exercised without incident for 16 years, passed the state senate on March 8.
What’s more: the sponsors of these bills are backed by leading companies we buy from every day: AT&T, Aetna/CVS/Caremark, Delta, Comcast, Southern Company, Coca-Cola, UPS, Home Depot, and General Motors. Together, these and other companies have donated $7.4 million since 2018 to the lawmakers pushing egregious voter suppression bills forward. It’s time we have all voices on deck speaking loud and clear in opposition to this legislation, including the companies that claim they have our backs.
We all know the real meaning of reforms for “more manageable, more respectable” voting: make it harder for Black, Latinx, Asian American, and young voters—the New Georgia Majority—to vote. HB 531 and its Senate counterpart would take a sledgehammer to Georgia’s already-fragile election infrastructure, including hard-fought wins that have expanded voting rights despite Georgia’s long and racist history of voter suppression. If these bills become law, they would create a web of obstacles that would silence thousands of Georgia voters by:
- Requiring an excuse for absentee voting, which would end 15 years of Georgia’s no-excuse absentee voting.
- Requiring a photocopy of your ID when applying for an absentee ballot and when voting absentee.
- Banning ballot drop boxes.
- Banning government officials from proactively sending voters absentee ballot applications.
- Banning line warming activities (handing out water, snacks, ponchos, PPE to folks in line to vote) by community organizations.
With less than a month left in the legislative session, we must hold lawmakers accountable for their constant attacks on the vote. If these bills, even one of them, become law, Georgia will disenfranchise millions of voters and regain its place as the standard-bearer for voter suppression. The bills are antidemocratic, and with every word seek to negate Georgia’s voter participation gains in 2020 and early 2021.
So how do we continue to fight?
Republican lawmakers have always discounted the power of the New Georgia Majority. They think we will sit back and assume our voting rights work is done. Well, they don’t know us. We continue to show up to protect our state, our country, and our democracy—no matter the obstacles they put in front of us. Paying attention will be the easiest check ever written to save our democracy.
Georgia’s legislative session is short, but, when passed, the impact of these voter suppression laws will be felt for a long time, setting back Georgians for generations. As Georgia’s own Congressman John Lewis shared at the 50th-anniversary celebration of the 1963 March on Washington, “you must get out there and push and pull and make America what America should be for all of us.”
At the federal level, we’re confident that our two newly elected Senators, who deem voting rights sacred, will fight for the passage of the “For the People Act,” which would restore the Voting Rights Act to ensure a just democracy for all. This important legislation, which just recently passed the House, will guarantee many necessary protections and guidelines, including thwarting gerrymandering by ensuring bipartisan, independent commissions are charged with redrawing voting lines, restricting voter purges and providing much-needed federal election oversight in states like Georgia that have a history of voter suppression.
And here’s what voters can do: sign our petition calling for Georgia companies who back the sponsors of harmful legislation in Georgia to immediately halt all donations and publicly oppose these bills.
The New Georgia Project Action Fund is out here, pushing and pulling for the Georgia we deserve. Join us, donate and share with your networks. Let’s make sure that the Republicans responsible are held accountable for what they have done. We will not allow democracy to be for the few; we all get to participate. As the battle for democracy wages on, the New Georgia is ready.
Nse Ufot is the CEO of the New Georgia Project Action Fund.