Op-Ed: Georgia’s assault on our voting rights

Jack Miller | April 2, 2021 | Opinion, Politics
New Jerseyans are far from powerless in this struggle: Support state-level organizations that fight back and pressure our senators to act forcefully from Washington
Credit: Courtesy The Hub Project)
Jack Miller

Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a new state voting law that should scare anyone who believes in democracy. The law limits the use of ballot drop boxes, gives the Republican state Legislature power to take over county election boards and even makes it illegal to hand out food or water to voters standing in line. Yes, you read that correctly: It’s now illegal in Georgia to give voters water. Unfortunately, Georgia’s attack on voting rights is just the tip of the iceberg. Bills like these are advancing in state Legislatures everywhere. Here’s how New Jerseyans can help fight back.

The voting rights that Georgians are slowly losing are at the heart of our democracy. Thankfully in places like New Jersey, the state Legislature agrees. The Legislature just passed a bill expanding voting rights, creating more early-vote options and making drop boxes easier to access. Gov. Phil Murphy just signed the bill, joined by former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. But unlike New Jersey, voters in states like Georgia, Texas, Ohio and North Carolina have lawmakers determined to roll back voter participation. Florida Republicans, for example, are now considering a bill that would also outlaw giving voters water in line.

Across the country, Republican state lawmakers are introducing an avalanche of bills designed to stop certain voters from casting their ballots. The pretext for these bills is the “Big Lie.” As Aaron Blake writes, the Big Lie is “shorthand for (former President) Trump’s baseless and overwhelmingly debunked effort to call the results of the 2020 election into question.” Many Republicans, through ignorance or purposeful malice, are using the Big Lie to justify restricting voting rights. New data from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice highlights that more than 360 bills limiting voting rights have been introduced in 47 states. If even a fraction of these bills pass, they would fundamentally alter how elections are conducted in the United States.

Attacking voting rights is sadly not new. In the Jim Crow-era South, local laws enabled white people to maintain an iron grip on power through terror, violence and an election system that excluded Black voters. The parallels between that time and Georgia’s new voting law are hard to ignore. The law undoubtedly burdens Black communities more than white ones. It was passed just months after Black voters delivered Georgia to Joe Biden and flipped the Senate. And in a cringeworthy flourish of symbolism, the bill was signed in a closed-door ceremony by seven white men standing in front of a painting that was later identified as a former slave plantation. Outside, state Rep. Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested by police for demanding to speak to the governor.

Facing this onslaught of voter suppression, it’s hard to know what New Jerseyans can do to help. The good news is there are two easy ways for you to get involved. First, donate to groups fighting voter suppression. Following her loss, Stacey Abrams established Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to promoting fair elections, encouraging voter participation and educating voters on their rights. You can also support the New Georgia Project and organizations like Black Voters Matter. New Jerseyans may not be on the front lines of these fights, but we can certainly help those who are.

Second, New Jerseyans should pressure our elected leaders in Washington to protect Georgians’ voting rights. The U.S. House of Representatives has previously passed three landmark voting rights bills: the For The People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and The Washington, D.C., Admission Act. These bills would expand voter access, preempt state-level voter suppression and enfranchise millions of voters. However, the bills are likely doomed to languish in the Senate due to the arcane, anti-democratic filibuster. I wrote previously that the Senate should kill the filibuster. Georgia’s assault on voting rights only makes this case more urgent.

In New Jersey, Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker both support reforming the filibuster, but they should go further. If free and fair elections are the foundation of our democracy, Senate Democrats should not hesitate to protect voting rights. Inaction would allow waves of state-level voter suppression laws to go into effect. This is not the time for half measures. New Jerseyans should call on Sens. Menendez and Booker to abolish or bypass the filibuster to pass those three key democracy bills.

With big, national issues like voting rights, people can often feel powerless. Luckily, this isn’t one of those cases. We should support state-level organizations that fight back and pressure our senators to act forcefully from Washington. New Jerseyans can make a difference in the fight for Georgia’s voting rights.

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