Updated: Oct 15, 2021
Senators Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won the controversial Georgia senate runoff elections in January. As a result, there is a 50/50 split in the Senate with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tie-breaking vote. Georgia, a historically red state, notably voted blue in the last presidential election. The recent progressive shift in Georgia’s elections, along with the increasingly diverse population, gave Democrats hope of a permanent change in politics. However, this belief was shattered after new voting restrictions were signed into law on March 25 by Republican Governor Brian Kemp—restrictions that, if upheld, suppress and discourage Georgian voters, disproportionately affecting minorities.
Stacey Abrams, a Democratic State Representative of the 89th House District and long-term activist against voter suppression, was the first to dub the new laws “Jim Crow 2.0.” Her organization, Fair Fight, filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office and Georgia Board of Elections in 2018, hoping to reform the voter suppression in the 2018 election after losing to Kemp, who also acted as the state’s chief election officer. This lawsuit tackled harmful problems present in state elections such as voter purges, wait-listed registration applications, issues at predominantly non-white voting precincts, negligence regarding absentee/provisional ballots, and more.
The new legislation creates many obstacles for Georgian voters before and on election day. Changes such as creating stricter voter identification requirements for absentee ballots and providing fewer ballot drop boxes only further discourage voters from casting their ballots on election day. The law also empowers state officials to take control of election boards. Providing food and water to voters in line is now illegal under this law. Additionally, felons aren’t allowed to vote in Georgia, a law that disproportionately affects Black people, who make up approximately 38% of the convicted felons in the United States and are 5.9 more times to be incarcerated. These restrictions will further manipulate the voter outcome, which critics say will target Democrats and people of color the most.
However, Republicans seem less concerned about the changes to come. On his podcast, conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro said, “Do you know what voter suppression is? Voter suppression is when you don’t get to vote.” Other Republicans and conservative commentators seem to agree on that message: how is this voter suppression if Georgians still have the right to vote?
What Shapiro and other Republicans are forgetting is this: the most prominent example of voter suppression in US history did not explicitly ban voting either. In fact, it was the primary response to African Americans gaining their rights to vote. In 1865, after the ratification of the 13th Amendment and the abolishment of slavery, states in the South started using “Black Codes” to stop African Americans from voting or participating as public servants in any way. These laws, just like the new Georgian ones, did not explicitly stop anyone from voting. They posted signs saying “Whites Only,” gave literacy tests, and asked for proof of property. These newly freed slaves, who previously had little to no opportunity of education or owning land, could not pass all of the strict conditions set by their local governments. The recent Georgia laws are not explicitly racist like the Jim Crow laws of the 60s. However, by changing where ballot boxes are placed, shortening the time period allowed to deliver mail-in ballots, and making voter identification laws stricter, the Georgia state government is creating unnecessary restrictions to inconvenience the voters in their state.
This is a dangerous action. The United States is known for its democracy and pledge that all people, regardless of race, gender, and creed, have a say in who they want to represent them. Although these laws aren’t a repeat of the Jim Crow laws that initially stopped a large percentage of the Black community from voting, they bring us a step closer. Legislators should work to move forward, further away from past discriminatory laws, not backward.