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OPINION REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Jim Crow Is Not on the Georgia Ballot
Here are the actual proposals being cast as ‘voter suppression.’
By The Editorial Board
March 23, 2021 6:31 pm ET
The battle over voting rules is erupting again, and Georgia is back as political ground zero. It’s “a redux of Jim Crow, in a suit and tie,” says Democrat and media favorite Stacey Abrams with her usual understatement. The actual proposals that have passed either the House or Senate are more prosaic, and we thought you might like to hear the facts.
One plan would do away with signature matching, so election workers aren’t squinting at loops and handwriting slants to verify absentee ballots. Instead, mail ballots and applications would have a field for voters to write their state ID numbers. Georgians who vote in person are already asked for identification, and the state offers free IDs.
Other ideas are a non-nefarious grab bag. The House bill would set an earlier deadline for requesting a mail ballot: Applications would be due 11 days before the election, instead of four. This is moving in the right direction, but the U.S. Postal Service says 15 days should be allotted, so voters receive their blank ballots with enough time to mail back their completed ones.
The House would set permanent rules for ballot drop boxes. Counties would be capped at one box for every 100,000 active voters. Box placement would be limited to county offices or early voting sites, and they’d be operational only during regular voting hours. The boxes would need “constant surveillance” by election staff or security. Ballots would have to be collected daily by two workers, to prevent anyone from being left alone with a pile of votes.
After last year, that sounds like a restriction, but it’s the wrong comparison. Last year was the first time Georgia allowed any ballot drop boxes, under a pandemic dispensation. As it expires, drop boxes are scheduled to disappear. If the Legislature approves them with caveats, absentee voters would have more options than the 2019 status quo.
The House would also order that voter wait times be measured at large precincts. If they reached an hour, adjustments would be required before the next election. On the Senate side, one bill would let workers begin processing piled-up mail votes, in strict confidence, eight days before the election. Some states already do preprocessing, which cuts delays in reporting final numbers. It’s a good change, and other states—ahem, Pennsylvania—should do the same.
Another Senate bill would let state officials audit “low-performing” local election directors and appoint temporary replacements to force change. In November two counties initially missed 5,000 ballots, so maybe discipline is needed.
Now the stuff that makes headlines: The Senate passed a bill to roll back no-excuses mail voting. Absentee ballots would still be available to those obligated to be elsewhere, with a disability, or age 65 and up. Republican House Speaker David Ralston has said he opposes this change, so it might not happen. But even if it did, Georgia would hardly be an outlier: More than a dozen states save the absentee exception for people who need it. They include such bastions of right-wing voter suppression as Connecticut and Delaware.
The House, meantime, passed a bill to rewrite the rules for weekend early voting. As of now, counties must offer ballots on one Saturday. Three other weekend days are optional. A House proposal would make mandatory a second weekend day, but that would be the limit. One proponent argued for it as a uniform standard, giving voters everywhere the same treatment.
But in populated areas, two Sundays of voting would be pared to one Sunday, so it’s being cast as an attack on black churches that urge “souls to the polls” after services. Only 3% of Georgia’s early in-person voters last year went to the polls on a Sunday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But 37% of them were black, the newspaper says, compared with only 30% of Georgia’s registered voters overall.
This statewide comparison is a little misleading, since the latter figure includes whiter rural places that don’t have Sunday voting. If lawmakers want to make rural counties run a second day of weekend voting, then fine, but cutting a Sunday in metropolitan areas merely for uniformity isn’t a convincing argument. That’s probably why, in any case, lawmakers appear to have abandoned the idea.
Does any of this sound like Bull Connor at the precinct door? Georgia has had record voter numbers in recent years, including outstanding black turnout, and these proposals won’t reverse that. Setting aside President Trump’s spurious fraud claims, last year’s pandemic election put a spotlight on election flaws like subjective signature matching and faulty deadlines. There’s real work to be done to secure voter confidence in ballot integrity before 2022.
Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the March 24, 2021, print