Printed in The Atlanta Voice, March 10, 2021
By Nathaniel Smith, Partnership for Southern Equity
All that stands between the free, fair, and equitable elections that made the 2020 election cycle possible and regression to Jim Crow-era voter suppression is the Georgia Senate. On March 1, HB531 passed the Georgia House along party lines – a bill that would restrict absentee voting and reduce access to early voting locations – reducing the equities that generations fought to obtain.
The success of the 2020 and early 2021 runoffs was a culmination of the hard work and dedication of voting rights advocates. Elections officials were also on the hook to reduce long lines at the polls and other irregularities that plagued our voting system.
It was a proud moment for Georgia. We’re known nationwide for absentee balloting, and during a pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans, it was the single most effective means of increasing voter participation in the fall of 2020 and the 2021 runoff.
The processes resulted in record voter participation and, throughout subsequent challenges and recounts, officials repeatedly validated the results.
This was a win for all Georgians, but for those who lost, this was an indictment of their stranglehold on power in the state. So, they did what any former power would do, try to rewrite the rules in their favor.
Instead of trying to understand the constituents that voted against their agenda and work to expand their political tent, Republicans chose to work towards changing the rules just like Southern whites did after Reconstruction which gave us the bloodshed of Jim Crow.
It feels like the Grand Old Party is trying to bring everyone back to the good (bad) old days when Black people and communities deemed less important to the White man’s plight/grasp for power were invisible to the White power establishment.
As soon as the 2021 legislative session started, GOP legislators in the General Assembly got to work to invalidate the successes of the last cycle. Basing their claims on lies and misinformation, they disguised their actions as protecting the integrity of Georgia’s voting process, but we all know what this is.
It’s suppressing the vote of Black and Brown people, seniors, and working families whose participation declines when access to in-person voting is limited and increases when absentee balloting was expanded.
Voting is one of the key ways Americans express their citizenship – recognition that took people of color and women generations to obtain after the country’s founding. HB531 and those who support the GOP’s efforts are slaps in the face to the brave men and women who gave their lives so we could vote.
This is offensive to the community that has worked for generations for equitable elections. I’m a firm believer in looking back to go forward, but GOP lawmakers in the General Assembly are literally taking us backward while saying Georgia is going forward. This sounds like the infamous politicians of Georgia’s past rising to block everyone from the ballot box except those who would vote for “him,” while everyone else was kept away through intimidation or repressive laws.
How can a policy that makes it illegal to provide food and/or drink to someone in line waiting to vote move Georgia forward? How can a policy that ends 24-hour access to drop boxes help Georgians trying to limit their exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Is it forward-thinking to ban private grants to support elections offices that do not have adequate funding to ensure safe, fair and equitable elections? This type of thinking does not protect Georgians. It only protects the GOP’s ability to win an election.
To make matters worse, the “allies” who were so publicly committed to racial equity and standing against white supremacy during the uprisings of 2020 are surprisingly less vocal about voter suppression than bills of past Legislatures.
Where are the chambers of commerce, Fortune 500 companies, movie studios, and major philanthropists on this brazen attack on their statements for racial equity? This situation in the General Assembly is a clear test of your commitments to advance racial equity made in 2020. Your actions today will show if your stance for equity and against white supremacy was just about marketing or if your commitments mean something to you. This your chance to show us all that you care by standing up against voter suppression in Georgia.
Silence will not go unnoticed. The people along with your employees, customers, vendors, and everyone you rely on to do business will remember who stood with them during times of uncertainty when they’re spending money in Georgia in the days to come.
I and the Partnership for Southern Equity stand with all of those including the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, and other progressive activists, who are against HB531 and other bills that limit freedom for all in Georgia.
We, as a people, need to stand united because, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” If these bills become law, it’s not just Black and Brown communities, seniors, and working folks who lose, we all lose.
Nathaniel Smith is the founder and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity. More information can be found at www.psequity.org.