U.S. Rules Committee Comes To Georgia To Protect Voting Rights by Gloria Tatum

Georgia is the poster child for voter suppression that other states have copied. So far over 400 bills have been introduced in state capitals and 28 voter suppression bills have been passed to become law.

The U.S. Rules Committee came to Georgia for its first Field Hearing in 20 years to hear firsthand and under oath about the impact of Georgia’s voting restrictions. The hearing was appropriately held at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta.

Republicans were invited to attend the hearing but did not show up to defend SB 202.

The Rules Committee included U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Alex Padilla (D-CA)

Witnesses include U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), State Rep. Bill Mitchell (D-Stone Mt), State Senator Sally Harrell (D-Atl.), Helen Butler, Executive Director, Ga Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and Mr. Jose Segarra, a voter from Warner Robins, Georgia.

The voter suppression bills started after Georgia had a groundbreaking turnout for the November 3, 2020, general election and January 5, 2021 run-off election that elected President Joe Biden and Democratic Senators Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock.

This Democratic win sent shock waves through the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly and instead of accepting their loss and changing their policy to grow the party and attract more minorities, they decided to go with Trump’s “Big Lie” that he lost due to massive voter fraud.

Hiding behind Trump’s “Big Lie,” Republicans immediately started to drop dozens of voter suppression bills to make sure the next election went the way they wanted it to go. To accomplish this goal they had to suppress the growing numbers of Black, Latino, Asian, disabled, working poor, and youth voters in Georgia that usually vote Democrat.

The answer for Republicans was SB 202, the most dangerous voter suppression bill in the nation since the Jim Crow era.

This law limits the number and availability of ballot drop boxes, puts limits on the hours of early voting, strips power away from local election officials and puts the power in the hands of the Republican-controlled state legislature, limits early voting for run-offs to one week and only on Monday through Friday, and provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct on Election Day won’t be counted.

SB 202 also allows an individual to challenge the registration of unlimited numbers of eligible voters. This is a form of intimidation to voters which clogs up the legal system. SB 202 makes it a crime for volunteers to give a bottle of water or even a stick of chewing gum to people in long lines to vote, the penalty is up to 2 years in prison.

But the worst raw power grab in SB 202 is that it allows the Republican-controlled state legislature to control the State Election Board to take over County Boards of Elections and remove county supervisors. Without evidence, they can nullify the lawful votes of Georgia voters if the majority party is not satisfied with the outcome of an election.

U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA)

Some people don’t want some people to vote. So they try to deny access to the ballot, setting up hurdles that voters have to cross as if voting is a privilege and not a right. Spread by the “Big Lie” these state actors are now busy rolling back voting rights in a way we have not seen in size and scope since the Jim Crow era,” U.S. Senator Warnock said at the hearing.

Senator Warnock, along with his colleagues, has introduced the Preventing Election Subversion Act. This legislation would address some of the specific challenges in Georgia by stopping mass challenges against voters and preventing state takeovers of local election boards.

“The rules we operated under during the last election cycle (Nov. 2020) were put in place by the same majority party (Republicans) that is now trying to tear them down,” State Rep.Bill Mitchell (D-Stone Mt) noted.

Rep. Mitchell while in Washington, DC with the Texas Democrats compared the Georgia and Texas voter suppression bills and found the language was almost identical. As suspected it is groups like the Heritage Foundation that are providing Georgia’s voter suppression bill to other states.


Some Republicans Admit There Was No Fraud

“We had several Republicans who stated there was no fraud,” State Senator Harrell said and added that State Rep. Alan Powel (R-Hartwell) in a House committee meeting said, “fraud was not found. It’s just in a lot of people’s minds that there was fraud.”

Georgia’s Republican Lieutenant Governor, Geoff Duncan; Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger; and Republican Chief Operations Officer, Gabriel Sterling all said there was no evidence of widespread fraud and that it was a secure election, conducted successfully.

Raffensperger and his family received death threats from Trump’s domestic terrorists for telling the truth. Liz Cheney (R-WY) lost her leadership position in the Republican Party for telling the truth.

Raffensperger was also stripped of his voting power on the State Election Board for telling the truth.

The New York Times noted that in over 100 million ballots only about a dozen were fraudulent.

Even Trump’s Department of Homeland Security said it was the most secure election in history.

Trump’s GOP has become a movement of lies, conspiracies, white supremacists, insurrectionists, and Jim Crow voter suppression laws that threatens to overthrow democracy.

This is why we need voter protections on the federal level.


The Most Dandereous Part of SB 202

Helen Butler was a member of the Morgan County Board of Elections and served in that position for over 20 years and during her time on the board, they never had a violation. After the passage of SB 202, she was terminated from that position. She explains the most dangerous part of SB 202 to the Rules Committee.

SB 202 allows the majority party in the legislature [Republicans] to dictate policy by the State Election Board to take over the day-to-day administration of County Boards of Elections and remove bipartisan county supervisors of elections and put in partisan political appointees.

“This raises the specter that the goal will be to nullify the lawful votes of Georgia voters when the majority party is not satisfied with the outcome of an election. Thereby achieving the result that the former president was unable to obtain in 2020,” Butler said.

“It was not just in my county of Morgan County they have taken control over, they are looking at other locations to take over. We have worked too hard to ensure equal and fair access to the ballot to turn back now,” Butler said.


SB 202 Was Rushed Through The House Like It Was On Fire

SB 202 came from the Senate to the House and to Governor Brian Kemp’s office to be signed within hours. “Moving that fast is unprecedented,” Rep.Mitchell said.

Not only did SB 202 move fast but State Senator Sally Harrell said, “SB 202 was never vetted by the Senate Ethics Committee.”

SB 202 started as a 2-page bill addressing absentee ballot applications and the Ethnic Committee passed that bill. Then it went to the House which replaced the 2-page bill with a new 98-page voting bill and the Senate did not have a chance to debate it. It was rushed through and voted on along party lines.

Minority party committee members often saw the bill for the first time before voting on it. When they asked the bill’s authors questions, they were answered dishonestly and disrespectfully. “It was very apparent to me that there is no required oath, to tell the truth in the Georgia General Assembly,” State Senator Harrell said

“In the nine years I have served in the Georgia General Assembly I have never seen such blatant disregard for the legislative process as I did with SB 202. The Georgia legislative process needs reform much more so than our voting laws do,” State Senator Harrell testified to the Rules Committee.


Long Lines And Closed Polling Locations

Mr. Jose Segarra, a retired Air Force Officer who now works at Robins Air Force Base as an engineer, tells the committee, “I had to go to extraordinary lengths to do the simple tasks of casting my ballot. I and thousands of Georgians had to wait for hours to vote.”.

U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff said he voted in a majority Black precinct and had to wait over 4 hours to vote and he was on the ballot. People waited in line from 1 to 8 hours to vote in many locations. Election officials reported people fainted in line from the long wait to vote.

Segarra reported that 214 polling locations were closed in Georgia between 2012 and 2018, mostly affecting minority communities.

“It seems this is a violation of the voting rights act to close so many polling locations in minority communities, ” Senator Markley said.

In rural Georgia, it is harder to vote because of few polling locations that are far apart with no access to public transportation, and also no broadband in many areas. Voters who don’t have cars or enough ID to vote by mail, may not get to vote.

Farmers work long hours and can’t get to the poll by 5 pm and if they do they will lose money.


More Confusing Rules In SB 202

Not only are the restrictions in SB 202 making it difficult to vote but the rules are confusing. A point of confusion is that early voting locations are not the same as election day locations. You can’t vote on weekends in the run-off elections but you can in the general election. Changing hours and polling locations for one election but not for another election.

Another tactic used in voter suppression is changing precinct locations. A voter waits in a long line at one precinct and then is told to go to another precinct. Or you find your precinct is closed and you don’t know where to go.

On election day the location is moved to where there is not enough parking or a location is understaffed, so people are in long lines.

A favorite tactic is to put only a few voting machines in Black communities where they are forced to stand in long lines for hours.

The more confusing you can make the law, the more people will get discouraged and not vote and that appears to be the goal of SB 202.


The Need For Federal Protection To Protect Voting Rights

All the reasons above and more are why we need federal standards and protection from voter suppression laws, purges of eligible voters, and other Jim Crow tactics to prevent people of color from voting.

We need SR 1 For the People’s Act and SR 4 the John Lewis Advancement Voting Rights Act with pre-clearance. Also Sen. Warnock’s Preventing Election Subversion Act.

For the People’s Act will cancel or stop all the 28 bad voter suppression bills already passed. So everyone regardless of where you live will have the same opportunity to vote.

The John Lewis Advancement Voting Rights Act will stop all the bad voter suppression bills in the future. They can not take effect without pre-clearance by the Department of Justice.

“Where you live should not determine how hard it is to vote or whether or not your vote counts. We need federal standards so it is fair, equal, and accessible for everyone,” State Senator Harrell said.

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Editor's Note: This story first appeared on the author's blog, StreetsOfAtlanta.blog.

Image Credits: the feature cartoon of a Voter Suppression Crime Scene is a combination image created by DonkeyHotey (Flickr/Creative Commons) – the source image for this cartoon about voter suppression is a Creative Commons from Bob Doran's Flickr photostream – the source images for the snake on the Gadsden flag in this cartoon are Creative Commons licensed images from plural's flickr photostream and Jeffery Love's flickr photostream; the story images were taken by the author, Gloria Tatum.

Gloria Tatum

Gloria Tatum

I'm a 50 year social justice activist turned reporter.

I was the first wave of feminism in Atlanta and a member of the National Organization of Women.

Later I moved on to Civil Rights, LGBT Rights, anti-war, environmental issues, pro-Palestinian, Native American Rights, Black Lives Matter, police violence, Climate Change, etc. I have never met a progressive issue I did not support.

I monitored klan activity in North Georgia, was attacked by the Klan, sued the Klan and won.

I was a part of a church group of volunteers that went to Nicaragua to be human shields on the Honduran border to prevent the U.S. supported Contras from killing impoverished peasants.

I attended a Social Forum in Venezuela and witnessed the poverty and the social reforms implemented by Hugo Chavez to help the poor. The poor loved Chavez and the rich hated him because he took from the rich and gave to the poor.

As part of Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace, I was arrested with a dozen other Grandmothers protesting the Iraq War.

I was part of a cultural exchange program to Cuba and was impressed with the free medical clinics and education programs for Cubans.

I joined the Grannies Respond Caravan and traveled to Brownsville Texas, to support immigrants when the Trump administration separated children from their parents and put them in detention camps.

I consider myself a Democratic Socialists and a humanitarian.