Georgia’s Suppressive Voting Laws Will Not Silence Our Voices
By Kevin Myles
I am a 50-year-old Black, Democratic leaning voter who lives in Fulton County, Georgia. I am one of the voters whose voice the 98-page omnibus election law passed by Georgia Republicans and signed by Governor Brian Kemp is intended to suppress. While most are now familiar with the broad outlines of the statute, let me share with you what it means for me. According to the new law, if I wanted to vote absentee, either due to COVID-19 concerns or convenience, I no longer have that right. I also won’t be able to request another absentee ballot until 2036. You see, the law eliminated no-excuse absentee voting. If I wanted to request a ballot, I’d have to be over 65, have a disability, or be serving in the military overseas. And even then, the length of time available for requesting a ballot has been cut in half, and the deadline for returning it has been shortened as well. Then there are the new state voter ID requirements. The current law requires that you possess one of a limited number of acceptable state IDs and to provide that information either via postal mail or online. And should they decide to drop it into a ballot drop box, the new law has eliminated any measure of convenience by requiring that drop boxes be exclusively placed inside polling places. Also, the drop boxes would only be accessible during early voting periods. The limiting of absentee voting options for thousands of Georgia voters means that there will be longer lines at the polls. It would be reminiscent of 2016, when many Georgians experienced six-hour wait times to vote. The new law also makes it a criminal act to provide snacks or water within 150 feet of the polling place or within 25 feet of anyone standing in line.
But the most insidious challenge to my voting rights comes in the form of changes made to the State Election Board. Under the new law, the State Election Board has been given the authority to intervene in county elections in Georgia. The State Election Board can suspend the county elections board or probate judge and select a single person who would replace them for up to nine months. This newly created post would in effect serve as an election czar who could independently make changes to polling places, make rulings on election challenges, and make decisions on whether to certify election results. And this board will be chaired by someone selected by the Republican majority in the Georgia Legislature or by the governor if the Legislature is not in session. You read that correctly. The new law grants the Republican majority the authority to change the rules mid-election, deciding where, how, when, or if my vote will count.
The current law even allows for unlimited voter challenges. This means it will now be possible for right-leaning groups to challenge my voting eligibility with no basis in factual concerns about my residence or voting history, but based entirely on my polling place, my perceived political leanings, or my demography. Challenges to that could well be heard by a political appointee accountable only to the Republican majority or to the governor. Yet, in spite of all of the challenges ahead, I am unwavering in my faith that this effort to limit or silence our voices will ultimately fail. Whenever our right to vote has been challenged, our community has mobilized and overcome. Full and unfettered voting rights for community stands as the litmus test of America’s belief in its own democracy. And the NAACP has always stood at the vanguard of the fight for America to live those values. It is indeed an honor to fight this battle with this team of volunteers, activists, and seasoned and emerging leaders, because, together, we will turn back this current wave of voter suppression. Be it the courthouse, the statehouse, or the ballot box, the NAACP is prepared to fight back with litigation, legislation, and mobilization. A young freedom fighter in a fight for democracy once famously said, “The power of the people is much stronger than the people in power.” Now it’s our turn to teach this important lesson to the country once again. Kevin Myles is the NAACP National Director of Training.