Compelling Issues

What You Need To Know About Georgian Voter Suppression & The 2018 Midterm Elections

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On Nov. 27, Georgian gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams filed a lawsuit to combat the widespread Georgian voter suppression that led to her opponent Brian Kemp‘s appointment in the 2018 midterm elections. Backed by Fair Fight and Care in Action, Abrams is calling for an end to “exact match” and “use it or lose it” policies in the state, in addition to ridding Georgia of its electronic voting machines. Using the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses, Abrams hopes to place Georgia’s voting processes back under federal supervision. As Slate notes, the lawsuit is ingenious in that it shows the cumulative effect of Georgia’s system denying voters of color their right to vote, rather than just focusing on one aspect of the process. Still, it’s easy to wonder how, exactly, we got to this point, and how the system is allowed to continually fail voters of color.

Voter suppression is still rampant across America, from South Dakotan street address laws that prevent Native Americans from casting their ballots to Texas allowing handgun licenses as proof of identification but not student I.D.s. Georgia has become this year’s national voting battleground because of its highly publicized, extremely close race for governor that put the first black female major-party gubernatorial nominee in American history, former House Minority Leader Abrams, against incumbent Brian Kemp — a man whose official political ads proudly claimed, “I got a big truck just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take ‘em home myself.” Kemp oversaw the voting rules and state laws during the election, leaving the integrity of the results in the hands of a man that Salon points out decreased the overall number of Georgian voters by more than 1 million in only six years, which has mostly affected black residents. As such, Georgia’s “use it or lose it” policy that stemmed from the 1994 National Voter Registration Act led to 107 thousand voters purged from the rolls in 2018, after 250 thousand registered residents were removed in 2014 under the same rule, which states that anyone who didn’t vote in a three-year period could be purged and have to re-register, without any notification that their registration was no longer active. 53 thousand registrations, 80 percent of which were minorities, were put on hold in October until an activist suit stepped in, and an abnormal amount of absentee ballots were rejected from Georgia’s most racially diverse country. Some voting machines just didn’t work, polling places were unceremoniously closed, and more than three thousand voters were originally incorrectly flagged as noncitizens in Georgia’s databases because the state never updated the status of new U.S. citizens. In yet another display of Georgian voter suppression, 40 black senior citizens were removed from a bus headed towards early voting polls, an action that was defended by their County Administrator on the grounds that the county-run senior center wasn’t allowed to partake in “political activity.”

Taken out of context, these incidents sound like they could be taken straight from the days of de-jure discrimination, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when the government decided to end literacy tests, established that people of color cannot be denied the vote, and prevented discrimination in voting against those with limited English proficiency. It also included a “preclearance” provision specifically targeted at states like Georgia, where there was a history of voter suppression through election procedure changes. Preclearance mandated that states had to pre-clear changes in their voting laws on the federal level, but a 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County vs. Holder, struck down pre-clearance on the grounds that Southern states were being unfairly targeted. That decision allowed Georgia to enact stricter voting laws, which mainly affected their minority population, and led to some of the larger issues that arose in the 2018 midterms such as the “exact match” law. Under “exact match,” voter registration information that doesn’t exactly match a driver’s license or Social Security information, such as a dropped middle name or hyphen, causes delays on potential voters’ registrations, which led to the registration holds in Gwinnett Country this October. Even further, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that after the 2013 change to the Voting Rights Act, Georgia was the only state that creating voting restrictions in all of the categories they examined, ranging from voter I.D. requirements and early voting cuts to necessitating documentary proof of citizenship, voter purges, and widespread closures and relocations of polling locations, as reported by Jurist.

While we prepare for a long battle as Abram’s lawsuit moves through the judicial process with a goal of returning Georgia to preclearance procedures if intentional discrimination is proved, there are still steps that can be taken right now to help prevent future voting suppression. One of the most important ways to get involved, as with most political issues, is to stay informed and always make sure you’re registered to vote before registration closes in your state. Elle has written an easy-to-digest, thorough piece on different ways to let your voice be heard, and those with a specific interest in the fight against Georgian voter suppression can go directly to Fair Fight and Care in Action to volunteer or donate to the causes backing Abram’s suit. More broadly, you can call your Senators in support of the Automatic Voter Registration Act, which would automatically register to vote any eligible individual who doesn’t choose to opt-out of the program, shifting the burden of registration to the government away from the individual, or help restore voting rights to felons across the country. Election Protection is another organization dedicated to meaningful voter registration reform, run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. As the political landscape continues to become even more partisan, it’s important to ensure that every American’s voice is heard, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic level. Midterms may be over, but our duty has only begun.

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