Rebeca: Ibarra I'm Rebeca Ibarra host of NPR and WNYC's Consider This in for Tanzina Vega and you're listening to The Takeaway.
Speaker 2: The Senate Bill 202, Georgia will take another step toward ensuring our elections are secure, accessible, and fair.
Speaker 3: SB 202 will allow for a hostile takeover of local boards of elections if the Georgia legislature, filled with politicians, didn't like the outcome of an election.
Speaker 4: This is really a threat to our democracy, number one, and number two, we need to call it what it is, it's racist.
Speaker 5: I can truthfully look in the camera and ask my African-American friends and other African Americans in Georgia to simply find out what's in the bill versus just this blank statement of "This is Jim Crow" or "This is voter suppression" or "This is racist" because it is not.
Speaker 6: Our governor is signing a bill that affects all Georgians and you are going to arrest an elected representative?
Speaker 2: It's anti-democratic. It's un-American. They are trying to make it harder for people to vote, rather than making it easier.
Rebeca: Last week, Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed into law Senate Bill 202. A new election bill that Democrats and civil rights advocates have criticized for placing major restrictions on the rights of Georgia voters, particularly voters of color. The new legislation comes in the wake of democratic victories in Georgia's presidential and senate elections over the past year. Former President Donald Trump and a number of his Republican allies claimed without evidence that voter fraud played a role in President Joe Biden's victory in the state even after multiple recounts confirmed his win.
Some of the central pieces of the new law include restrictions on ballot drop-off locations, a photo ID requirement for absentee ballots, and even a ban on handing out food and water to voters waiting in line. Data from Georgia public broadcasting in ProPublica on Georgia's June 2020 primary election found that after 7:00 PM, voters at majority Black polling places had to wait roughly eight times as long to vote as voters at majority white locations.
Over the past week, several prominent business leaders have spoken out against the Georgia voting law, but so far, Governor Kemp and his allies are standing behind it. With the GOP in control of Georgia State Legislature, Democratic lawmakers have limited options to push back. For more, we're joined now by Georgia State Representative Debra Bazemore, who represents Georgia's 63rd district. She's also the Chief Deputy Whip for the Democratic Caucus. Thanks for being here, Representative Bazemore.
Representative Bazemore: Hello, and how are you today?
Rebeca: Well, thank you so much. What was your immediate reaction to the passage of this voting rights bill in Georgia.
Representative Bazemore: I was heartbroken. We were dismayed. We were upset, in disbelief that legislators who are elected by constituents in the state of Georgia would now take us back years and years and that we would have to fight for the right to freely vote without restrictions.
Rebeca: Are there particular pieces of the legislation that you're most concerned about?
Representative Bazemore: First and foremost, the way that this committee was formed was by the Republicans, of course, because they are in the majority. They nicely gave us four seats for Democrats to sit with them, which they were ignored and dismissed during the whole process. A lot of the meetings, a lot of the information was hidden from them. Just like you saw, everything was done behind closed doors, and in secret, and that is the most disturbing part because what they considered the bill came to the floor, then they knew they had the numbers to get it pass, regardless of how anyone else felt, regardless of the fact that they did not open it up to the public, their constituents, the citizens of Georgia. They were not transparent. There was no integrity with what they did,
Rebeca: Representative, how will this bill impact voters in your district and, for our listeners outside of Georgia, could you tell us what the demographic makeup of your district looks like?
Representative Bazemore: Thank you for that question because I do represent a large portion of Fulton County, Fayette County, and Clayton County. As you know, Fulton and Clayton County were highlighted in this most contentious election, the past election. We are proud to say that we are responsible to send Joe Biden, our President Joe Biden to DC. We are excited to say that we sent two, not one, but two senators, to Congress and we're excited about that.
There is an attack, especially on those two counties and we have already started working hard to combat what they have put in place. We have been working with Fair Fight, you know Stacey Abrams has established that organization, we've been working with ACLU, we have been working with a number of different organizations. We have been meeting with them over the months because we knew this was going to happen and we knew what we needed to do was to make sure we got the questions, the appropriate questions, on the table and asked in committee, and on the floor of the house so that we know that this is going to court, that we have the evidence and we can say that this was not done correctly, and we can fight the legitimacy of it.
Rebeca: Now, this bill does expand early voting in most counties, according to Georgia public broadcasting, do you view that provision as positive?
Representative Bazemore: I'm not understanding how it expands early voting, but in the bill, we had drop boxes. The drop boxes would allow anyone to vote any time. I utilize that, because we're so busy, I went to my nearest drop box, seven o'clock at night, eight o'clock at night, early in the morning and I just dropped it off and it was so convenient. Not only that, we are still in a pandemic. People forget, we are still in a pandemic, people are not at ease.
They don't want to come out and stand close to individuals. They don't want to have to stand in lines for six to eight hours, as those in the southern region of Georgia had to do in my district, especially. They had to stand there, but they did it because they knew how important it was and so that's what we're going to do again because we found out that absentee ballots was the best way, the safest way to keep our constituents and our citizens safe. That's why we used it overwhelmingly, then we find out we know that the republicans have used this method for decades, and it's worked for them, but now, they want us not to be able to use it because they're fearful that they won't be elected again.
Rebeca: Now, Governor Brian Kemp and other Georgia Republicans say that the bill is meant to make Georgia's elections more secure. What is your response to their stance on this?
Representative Bazemore: I'm concerned about that since it was said over and over and over again, proving that there was no fraud. There was not a problem with the election. Hand count, recount and with the GBI's assistance, so I'm not sure why we are trying to fix something that's not broken. That's because they have to play to their base with the person that sat in that seat, number 45, put out this lie and a lot of his followers believe it. Those are still some of their constituents, so they had to do something.
Rebeca: You're talking about the discredited claims of alleged voter fraud. The state government in Georgia is controlled by Republicans. As a member of the minority party, is there anything you and your colleagues can actually do to stop voter suppression from happening in your state?
Representative Bazemore: As I stated we have joined with several different organizations outside. We've already started, like I said, with lawsuits. We've already started to inform our constituents to make a plan early, now, don't wait until next year, make a plan to vote. How are you going to vote? Where are you going to vote? Make sure you get the accurate information because if you don't, even if you're in your county and you're not at your location, the right location, because you got inaccurate information, your vote will not be counted. We are educating from this day forward and letting our constituents know and empowering them with the information.
Rebeca: What would you like to see corporations based in Georgia do in response to the new voting restrictions? I know there've been call for boycotts and things like that.
Representative Bazemore: Yes, there have been. At first, there was radio silence. Then they came out and made a statement that-- Some of them made statements that were not acceptable. Now we had one of the major organizations, which was Delta, and they came out and they said they were against portions of the bill. As a result, the Republicans then took the jet fuel tax away from them, had a bill and it passed in the house. That was a backlash.
Rebeca: Do you imagine this frustration that you're feeling and other Democrats are feeling will motivate voters to the polls with greater urgency than before?
Representative Bazemore: I think that is going to be the outcome. I believe once you upset a group of people, once you tell a group of people that they can't do something, you have now given them the energy and the purpose to do exactly what you are trying to stop them from doing. People are motivated at that point when you take away their rights and they are ready to get out and vote and do exactly the opposite.
One thing that the Republicans continue to say is "Read the bill." One thing I want to tell them is to take their knee off of our necks. Please take your knee off of our necks because we will be victorious.
Rebeca: Debra Bazemore is state representative for Georgia's 63rd district. Representative Bazemore, thank you so much for joining us.
Representative Bazemore: Thank you.
Rebeca: Critics have referred to the bill as Jim Crow 2.0 and advocacy groups have filed lawsuits requesting that the lobby overturned for violating the Voting Rights Act. Lawmakers in Georgia are part of a trend nationally where Republican legislators across the country have introduced more than 250 bills that aim to restrict voting.
To walk us through the nuts and bolts of this bill and what it could mean for future elections in Georgia, we're joined by Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University, and Stephen Fowler, a politics reporter with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you both for joining us.
Andra Gillespie: Thank you for having me.
Stephen Fowler: Thank you.
Rebeca: Stephen, how does Georgia's new election law change the process of voting?
Stephen: The better question almost might be what doesn't get changed in this. It's a 98-page law that touches every aspect of Georgia's elections from absentee voter applications to how poll workers can serve to the post-election counting process. It makes sweeping changes really in two big categories. One is election administration and how county officials run things and how the state run things.
Then, two, some more voter-facing things dealing with absentee voting and early voting. Basically, it changes the perception of Georgia's elections too because Republicans say that there needs to be more integrity with a system. Democrats and voting rights groups say many of these changes are unnecessary.
Rebeca: Andra, among many things, the law reduces access to drop boxes. It shortens the length between an election and a runoff election. It reduces the duration of the absentee voting window. It prohibits sending out unsolicited absentee ballots. Talk to me about the motivation for introducing and signing this law.
Andra: The motivation depends on your perspective. The sponsors of the bill say that they are trying to restore confidence in the election where there are a significant number of voters who do believe that something was amiss in the 2020 election cycle, but we need to get to the source of why they think that. There wasn't widespread voter fraud. There were audits and recounts and they showed that there wasn't widespread voter fraud.
There have been investigations of ballots that have demonstrated that any discrepancies were minor and wouldn't have changed the outcome of the election. Most of the people who believe that there was something fraudulent or amiss in this election happened to be members of the party of the former president of the United States who routinely said that the election was stolen from him, and hasn't recanted that particular story.
There is this larger question of, yes, there is lack of public confidence in the election, but it's lack of confidence that is based on a repeated spread of a lie. There's that part of it, but then there are parts of SB 202 that do address challenges that local election boards encountered because of the pandemic and then do make some administrative changes that people don't necessarily find objectionable, particularly people who are administering elections.
Rebeca: Stephen, what's the reaction been from Georgia voters and residents?
Stephen: The backlash to the law has been really building since before it was signed. This final version of the bill is pared down from some of the suggestions that Republican lawmakers proposed. Some as extreme as ending automatic voter registration and ending no-excuse absentee voting that ultimately didn't make it. Governor Brian Kemp signed the law about an hour after it passed out of the legislature in a closed-door session.
There's been a lot of backlash to that. There's backlash to the fact that a lot of these changes have been made and people feel like the legislative process wasn't as transparent as maybe some of the other bills or changing laws just a couple of weeks really after Georgia's most recent election that saw Democrats take control of the US Senate. There's a lot of opposition from Democrats in particular who have said that these are unnecessary changes that make it unnecessarily harder for people of color to vote.
On the other side of the aisle, you have Republicans counting a couple sections of this law saying why are you attacking things that make things better, we're trying to secure the ballot. In a way, it's galvanized Republican voters to have a little bit more faith in Georgia's election system than they did when many stayed home for the runoff.
Rebeca: Andra, Georgia is a state where during past elections there have been long lines of people waiting to vote in precinct with Black and brown populations. SB 202 criminalizes giving food or drinks to voters waiting in line. What's going on here?
Andra: There's a lot that's going on here. There are other provisions in SB 202 that are supposed to make lines more efficient. For instance, in places where you have waits of an hour or more, those precincts are supposed to be split up into smaller precincts in subsequent elections to try to reduce those wait times to make it more efficient. On the other hand, there are provisions in the bill that say that in non-statewide elections, so in local races, counties have flexibility about the number of machines that they actually have to put up because they're expecting low turnout. I think the question would be whether or not you would end up with long lines in a local race in a small county. We don't know we would have to wait and see what would happen with that. In terms of providing food, there are a couple of things to think about.
There are federal provisions that say that you can't give people things in exchange for their vote. That's usually been used to discourage people from giving people freebies for voting and food often gets counted in that. There've been major corporations like Ben & Jerry's, for instance, that have gotten in trouble for trying to give free ice cream cones, for instance, to people who have their I Voted sticker when they go.
If Ben & Jerry's wants to do that promotion, they have to give free ice cream to everybody as opposed to whether or not you have a voting sticker. I know it, in part, because I got into it with some commentary on a local station with folks from Fair Fight that groups like Verify were standing outside of polling precincts in thoroughfares and offering to anybody who passed by food and beverages to help encourage people to stand in line, so that people didn't get discouraged and go home if, in fact, they encountered a long line. This looks targeted towards that type of activity under the guise of these people are electioneering. Under the new provisions, poll workers can provide food and beverages to people who are standing in line. If the third-party groups are standing 150 feet away from the precinct location and 25 feet away from the voter line, it would still be permissible. It's just the idea that this is being brought up and it just looks like a lack of empathy for people because this is a serious issue. If it's 6:45 and you've been in line for four hours and you're really hungry and your blood sugar is low, you might get out of line and then not be able to get back in in time to be able to vote by the 7:00 PM deadline.
Rebeca: Stephen, what role did the fact that Republicans in Georgia lost both Senate seats to Democrats in a runoff earlier this year play in the formation of this law?
Stephen: It definitely played a big role, Rebeca. I think it's because you saw more people vote in Georgia than ever before on both sides of the aisle. You saw more people vote absentee than ever before, which is a system that was passed in the law by Republicans, but not really used widespread before the pandemic. With the absentee voting methods, that's outside of a polling place in your own home, there were a lot more questions and skepticism about that voting method and who used it, that Republicans use to push false claims of fraud. You had the president saying the absentee ballots need to be overhauled.
You had top Republican leaders in Georgia saying that the absentee voting methods need to be overhauled. The Republican Party of Georgia put out a platform of different voting law changes that they needed to make. There were some administrative things that were probably going to be changed regardless of the outcome. The fact that we had that outcome really gave a lot more cover to more sweeping changes than we might've seen otherwise. Under the guise of we need to have some more discussions about ballot security and other things that nobody implicitly said, "The Republicans lost this election, so now we need to change the laws to make us win again." It definitely is an undercurrent through all of the legislation.
Rebeca: Andra, there are several lawsuits that have been filed that hope to overturn the new law. What are the plaintiffs arguing?
Andra: The basic claims are going to be that this is a violation of the Voting Rights Act, that some of these activities are surgically targeted towards people of color, and that it would make it harder for them to vote. It would give a disparate impact and it might depress minority turnout more so than it would white turnout. That in and of itself would violate the Voting Rights Act.
Rebeca: Are you hearing anything about the chances that these lawsuits will be able to overturn the law?
Andra: Because they're just being filed, I think it's too early to say how strong a case they have or what the judicial responses is necessarily going to be to it. I will say that it wasn't surprising at all. When you have legislation that's this controversial, you almost expect that you're going to see lawyers filing cases almost immediately. We'll see what parts of this law get enjoined if any parts of the law get enjoined by these legal challenges.
Rebeca: Stephen, Georgia Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger is one of the defendants named in the lawsuit. How did he go from defending the integrity of elections in Georgia to supporting a bill that was motivated by false claims of widespread voter fraud?
Stephen: As the secretary of state, he is George's chief election official and is responsible for implementing these laws, whether or not he agrees with all of them. There are some parts of this bill that he definitely does not support. One of them removes him as chair of the State Election Board, which is the body that makes rules like the drop boxes that were added into the pandemics and they hear cases of alleged election law violations. He doesn't support removing himself from that.
He's been very outspoken about that, but there are other things that, as a Republican election official, he does support and endorse like some of the changes to absentee voting, but really with it being such a big law that makes so many changes, you ultimately can't separate the good from the bad. Brad Raffensperger, as Secretary of State is now being sued in his official capacity because he is ultimately the one that's going to have to carry out these law changes, both the ones that he likes and the ones that he doesn't.
Rebeca: Andra, Georgia is part of a trend nationally of Republican lawmakers attempting to change the voting process in light of the most recent elections. Do you think the Georgia law will push that trend forward nationally?
Andra: It looks like we're looking at trends, so the Texas State Senate has just passed provisions that would ban drop boxes, for instance. I think we're just going to be looking as we're seeing state legislatures sometimes winding down for the season that a lot of these controversial bills that they've made their way through the legislative process might be coming to the end of being voted on in the next chamber. Then their governors are deciding whether or not they're going to sign them into law, but Georgia is not isolated. It's not in a vacuum.
Many types of proposals that might seek to tweak the absentee ballot process have been going around and other types of provisions and tweaks to election laws have certainly been proposed in state legislatures around the country. While our focus is on the ones that make voting more difficult in the estimation of voting rights advocates, there are also bills that were being proposed in some states to seek to counter that and to actually expand voting rights access. If we just look at the number of bills that were being proposed that would restrict voting access, one, they're cause for concern and they're very numerous.
Rebeca: Stephen, boycotts against Georgia-based companies have been floated as a response to the new voting measures. Recently, the CEOs of companies, including Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines have said, they find the law to be unacceptable. Could their comments have any sway with lawmakers?
Stephen: I think they have, but maybe not in the ways that they intended. George's legislative session ended a Wednesday night and after Delta CEO, Ed Bastian, issued another statement saying that George's voting law was unacceptable, the Republican controlled House passed a bill that would end a tax break for jet fuel that Delta enjoys that ultimately didn't pass the Senate, but it sent a message and a shot across the bow. You have seen companies weigh in from Georgia and outside of Georgia about this bill, but most of them have lacked actual substantive criticism of the law with the exception of Microsoft who spelled out in detail some provisions they had concerns with, but a lot of the CEOs and companies that have spoken out have caught flack from both the Democrats and Republicans.
Republicans saying that it was hypocritical for the companies to say things when George's voting laws are better than some other states and Democrats saying, "Where were you when this was making its way through the legislative process?" I don't know if you'll see too much happen on the boycott front because really these companies have put themselves in a no-win position.
Rebeca: Andra, a number of Black religious leaders have also voiced their disdain for the law, including one of the founders of Souls to the Polls, a get-out-the-vote movement that Black churches participate in. Does the new law target church-based get-out-the-vote efforts?
Andra: Some of the initial proposals did and there were many bills that were being introduced in the legislature. There were original provisions that would have eliminated weekend voting. Ultimately, they didn't make it through, but what gets codified in terms of early voting is it increases the number of Saturdays that are required and it makes at least one Sunday optional.
Stephen can correct me if I'm wrong about that. What I suspect will happen is in Metro Atlanta, where Stephen and I live, and we actually don't live that far from each other. I don't expect to see any change in voting and, my access to Sunday voting because I expect that DeKalb County, where we live is going to take the option of offering as many Sunday voting days as possible.
The question is what's going to happen in some of these smaller counties and whether or not the smaller counties opt not to go beyond the bare minim requirement of having that one Sunday, I think is up for question. The same way, I think, that if we start to look at local races and we see counties offering fewer machines to polling places under the guise of these are low turnout elections. That's where I think the front lines of the impact of this law are going to be felt.
Rebeca: Andra Gillespie is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Emory University. Stephen Fowler is a politics reporter with Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thank you both for joining us.
Andra: Thank you.
Stephen: Thank you.
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