There has been much media coverage this week about impact of the new Georgia voting law and its fallout, especially as Major League Baseball has decided to move its mid-season Allstar Game from Atlanta to Denver. The move sparked questions about the efficacy (a term we’ve heard a lot lately related to the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine) of such a corporate decision and its affect on small business owners in Atlanta who stand to lose millions because of the move.
“What-Aboutism” questions quickly surfaced. “What about the Masters Golf Tournament, played at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia?” Did MLB miss the forest for the trees and move too fast, hurting poor and middle-class vendors and workers in shops and restaurants—many of whom are people of color—thereby throwing salt on the wound of those that the new voting law harms the most? These are important questions for serious minds to debate. But I hope—returning to the forest-and-trees analogy—we do not miss the forest and focus on the context of the new voting law in Georgia.
As David Leonhardt writes in the New York Times, “The Republican Party’s justification is “election integrity” — that is, stopping voter fraud. But voter fraud is exceedingly rare. There is no reason to believe it has determined the outcome of a single U.S. election in decades. If anything, the most high-profile recent examples of fraud have tended to involve Republican voters. Yet former President Donald Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly and falsely claimed otherwise…The new Georgia law is intended to be a partisan power grab. It is an attempt to win elections by changing the rules rather than persuading more voters. It’s inconsistent with the basic ideals of democracy.”
We can, and should, debate the most effective strategy to counter the impact of the Georgia law and, as President Biden has argued, officials in other states should “smarten up” (is that actually the proper use of that word?) and come down on the side of history by promoting democracy rather than limiting it.
Leonhardt goes on to argue that the impact of the new voting law in Georgia—and similar attempts in other states—is likely to be far less than the designers of these initiatives intended. Yet, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, such initiatives persist. Lawmakers in 47 states have introduced more than 360 bills that include new restrictions on voting. The states with the largest number of restrictive bills introduced are Texas (49 bills), Georgia (25 bills), and Arizona (23 bills), three states with Republican governors and increasingly purple electorates.
As Philip Bump writes in the Washington Post: “In Georgia, there is no rational motivation for the passage of its new election law other than demonstrating fealty to the false claims elevated by Trump. Why did [Georgia Secretary of State Brad] Raffensperger need to be replaced on the elections board now? Why did the rules governing absentee applications need to be tightened now, only a few months after an election in which repeated review and extensive scrutiny showed no improprieties had occurred?
Once you accept the obvious answer to those questions, it’s awfully difficult to assume that the changes presented in the new law were simply good faith efforts to streamline the state’s election process.”
So, it is important not to become ensnared in debates over the laws’ effectiveness or who is hurt the most by their passage. To return to the analogy above, we cannot lose sight of the forest. The blatant and repeated anti-democratic tactics employed by Republican legislators and others to limit voting rights for political gain are much more than politics. They represent a pervasive intent to exclude people of color from exercising the right to vote with the same agency and access as white Americans. This is wrong.
Last month I was honored to be interviewed by Rev. Eric Shafer, pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California on his “Hope Matters” podcast. The interview is now posted and you can see it here. Thanks, Eric, for the privilege of being part of this important communications effort!