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Rash of GOP-Led Voter Suppression Bills Cast Shadow on America

Critics Say Initiatives Could Take Nation Back to Jim Crow Era

Despite obstacles which included long lines, faulty voting machines, a shrinking number of polling stations in African-American neighborhoods and frequent purges of voter rolls, Blacks in Georgia overcame the odds with record voter turnout during the 2020 election cycle.

The result: Democratic candidates, including Joe Biden, secured highly-needed votes on their way to victory. However, Georgia had been a reliably Republican state with GOP candidates winning eight of the 10 elections between 1980 and 2016.

Now, in response to the outcome of the recent elections, Republicans, fueled by unsubstantiated statements made by Donald Trump and other party members that the election had been stolen, have unleashed a deluge of legislation aimed at restricting ballot access.

“This is an assault on democracy that has as its motivation the toxic mix of race, power and the sour grapes of losing the election,” said National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial.

“They’re mad because they lost and because Black people turned out in large numbers. It will be resisted. It makes some of the things that happened during Jim Crow seem like a picnic. It’s undemocratic and un-American.”

“It has to be stopped. It has no legitimacy and it isn’t a case of election integrity which is a big, fat lie. They are sowing fear and division which must be resisted. This is nothing new — it’s just voter suppression on steroids. The Voting Rights Act [VRA] stopped much of what was happening in the South,” he said.

Morial points to the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision which invalidated key sections of the landmark VRA in the Shelby v. Holder case. In a 5-to-4 decision, the justices nullified Section 5 of the VRA that required states to get permission from the U.S. Department of Justice to enact voting laws before implementing them.

Within days of the high court ruling, several states, mostly from the South, passed a series of draconian laws that made it increasingly difficult for Blacks, Latinos, Asians, students and the elderly to cast their ballots. Republican legislators supporting these bills claim that the legislative measures count as efforts to limit voter fraud.

However, critics contend that the laws serve as a means of disenfranchising voters, many of whom are more likely to vote Democratic.

“At least 253 bills with provisions restricting voting access have been introduced, pre-filed or carried over in 43 states, mostly by Republicans, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, dwarfing the number of similar bills filed at this point in 2020.

The report concludes that these measures serve as a response to a “rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities” promoted by Republicans for months without any evidence.

With an all-out push by voting rights activist Stacy Abrams and the organization she founded, Fair Fight Action, along with the New Georgia Project, ProGeorgia State Table, Georgia STANDUP and others groups, total voter turnout jumped by 134 percent, total in-person turnout rose 47 percent and absentee ballots saw an increase of 615 percent.

The Biden-Harris ticket won Georgia by more than 11,000 votes. And in a runoff election for two crucial U.S. Senate seats on January 5, both Democratic candidates, the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, pulled off upsets which would give their party a one-vote edge in the Senate.

This, and other races, have prompted Republicans to introduce and/or pass 253 bills in 43 states, described by many critics as the harshest voter restriction measures since the Jim Crow era.

On March 1 — one day after the 56th anniversary of Bloody Sunday — Georgia Republicans passed House Bill 531 which would impose limits on the number of voter drop-off boxes and shorten the amount of days for early voting. The legislation also calls for the requirement of fewer forms of identification for those who wish to vote by absentee ballot. And for those who distribute food, water or drinks to voters waiting in line to cast their ballot, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Erica Savage-Wilson, a former campaign organizer for Congressman Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), said she expected the Republicans’ response.

“These laws are ensuring that people don’t maximize their vote,” said Savage-Wilson, founder and host of Savage Politics and director of outreach for Public Democracy, a political consulting firm. “Election integrity is a push for Jim Crow-era restrictions, white only voting of poll taxes, literacy and other taxes to participate.”

She adds that she views the fight for voting rights as a life-or-death but doubts the legislation will become law and hopes that the nation will see a decline in voter suppression tactics before the 2022 midterm elections.

Marc Elias, a noted Democratic attorney and founder of the voting rights advocacy group Democracy Docket, made the following prediction in a Salon Magazine article published in February 2021.

“We are about to be hit with a tidal wave of voter suppression legislation by Republican legislatures throughout the country,” he said, adding that America could see a historic “contraction of voting rights like we have not seen in recent memory.”

“Republicans are doing this because they think they can gain an electoral advantage from making it harder for Black, brown and young voters to participate in the process,” he said. “This is the reaction of a party that knows it can’t compete for most the votes. So, it is acclimating itself to minority rule through several tactics. Gerrymandering is one piece of it. But certainly, voter suppression is a big piece of it.”

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