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Marsha Mercer column: Lessons from Georgia’s hot mess
Fair Elections

Marsha Mercer column: Lessons from Georgia’s hot mess

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Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp spoke during a recent news conference at the State Capitol in Atlanta. Kemp discussed Major League Baseball’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta over the league’s objection to a new state voting law.

It’s fair to say Georgia’s rush to approve a restrictive new election law didn’t go the way Republican proponents hoped.

Predicated on the lie that the 2020 election in Georgia was riddled with fraud, the 98-page Election Integrity Act includes 16 key provisions a New York Times analysis found “will limit ballot access, potentially confuse voters and give more power to Republican lawmakers.”

Reactions were swift and harsh. President Joe Biden attacked the law as “Jim Crow in the 21st century,” and four lawsuits are challenging the law as discriminatory against people of color.

Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Atlanta, delivering an early verdict on lawmakers’ intentions and potentially costing the state $100 million in lost revenue.

Moving the game to Denver will most hurt the people in Atlanta who already are suffering in the pandemic economy — small-business owners and the workers who rely on low-paying jobs in the tourism industry.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s stubborn response that other states’ voting laws are as bad as, or worse than, Georgia’s is childish and embarrassing.

Ditto Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s ham-handed threat this week to corporations to shut up about policy issues.

“Stay out of politics,” the Kentucky Republican warned on Tuesday, only to reverse himself on Wednesday.

But if Georgia GOP lawmakers thought their hot mess of a law would befuddle and silence enough urban voters to make a difference in close elections, they weren’t taking into account Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Bottoms showed strategic leadership Tuesday with an administrative order directing the city’s equity office to develop a plan to mitigate the new law’s effects.

“This administrative order is designed to do what those in the majority in the state legislature did not — expand our right to vote,” she said.

A mayor can’t undo what the legislature and governor have done, but she can take actions they should have: Help voters prepare for future elections.

Her order includes measures to train city staff on voter registration and on early, absentee and in-person voting so they can communicate the changes to residents. It also directs the city to educate residents on how to obtain the forms of ID now required for absentee voting, and to include QR codes and links regarding voter registration and absentee voting in water bills and other mailings.

Surely, we all can agree that when a state changes election rules, it has a responsibility to inform voters about those changes, so that eligible voters indeed can cast ballots.

Sadly, no. There’s no indication Georgia plans to educate voters or help them more easily comply with the law’s provisions. Meanwhile, the GOP disinformation campaign with unproven allegations about election fraud continues.

Six in 10 Republican voters believe the 2020 election was “stolen” from Donald Trump, and the same proportion say he should run again in 2024, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll reports.

The former president continues to harp on “massive fraud” in the election, sowing distrust in the voting system. After multiple ballot recounts, investigations and court cases found no widespread voter fraud anywhere in 2020, this deliberate and willful ignoring of facts is appalling.

But lawmakers in more than 40 states, feeling pressure to do something, have introduced more than 361 bills to limit ballot access. About 55 bills are moving forward, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit policy institute that tracks voting rights.

Texas and Arizona are poised to pass restrictive laws, although what effect the laws might have is uncertain.

Georgia’s new law could have been worse. It will suppress the vote by making it harder for people to vote absentee and offering fewer ballot drop boxes, but Sunday voting was preserved.

And the GOP effort could backfire if new laws motivate voters to go to the polls in even greater numbers for gubernatorial and congressional midterm elections in 2022.

A coalition of more than 200 companies, including such giants as Dow, Twitter, Paypal and Uber, recently spoke out in favor of voting rights. Their voices are welcome, but it’s time to act.

The companies should join with state and local groups to spread the word about what the new laws entail, so eligible voters indeed can prepare for casting their ballots. Our elections need all of us, and we all need fair elections.

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at: marsha.mercer@yahoo.com

© 2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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