It’s been a rough few months for anti-democracy crusaders in the United States. A record number of Americans voted in the most recent presidential election — nearly 160 million — and the wannabe authoritarian lost and then proceeded to incite a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol because of the lie that he lost an election he did indeed lose.
If you thought any of that would prevent Republican state legislators in Georgia from gutting voting rights, think again. House Bill 531, which passed in a party-line vote on March 1, is chock full of barriers to voting and is currently in the Senate, where it is likely to also pass along party lines. Among other changes, the bill will limit early voting on weekends to one optional Sunday for each county, force officials to place ballot drop boxes inside early polling locations, thus limiting their number and effectiveness, and prevent volunteers from providing voters waiting in line free drinks and food.
The Georgia GOP’s posturing is clear: they simply can’t stand that democracy threatens their future electoral prospects. If they succeed in gutting Georgians’ voting rights with this bill and others, they will regret it. Those whom this legislation implicitly targets — Black, Indigenous and people of color and young Georgians — will be even more motivated to maintain high turnout and morale moving forward. This assault on democracy will not be without a strong backlash from activists committed to a Georgia that expands, rather than circumscribes, voting rights for its increasingly diverse population.
State Republicans have stressed efforts to “restore confidence” in elections following their losses in November’s presidential race and the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs, but this language is as disingenuous as the bill it tries to legitimize. In reality, Georgia election officials found no evidence of massive, or even minor, voter fraud in the recent contests. Recounts and audits verified the results time and again, even as Trump cried fraud and abrogated his presidential duties.
For these reasons, the argument that the GOP is restoring confidence in elections by making it harder for more Georgians to vote is simply absurd. In fact, these attacks on voting will likely cause confidence in election security among the majority that elected President Joe Biden, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) to plummet.
Georgia Republicans are not seeking to restore faith in the electoral process. They are taking steps to ensure they can still win, even as changing demographics render them a political minority. They want to claim victory even when the numbers just don’t add up. That is not restoration. It’s suppression.
Georgia is no stranger to the backlash caused by a diversifying electorate, and turning to historical examples helps give us an idea of what the response to the latest anti-democratic actions of the state’s GOP could look like. When the post-Civil War Reconstruction period ended in 1877, white powerbrokers in Georgia sought to “redeem” the state from the perceived ills of Black voting power and general equality among the male voting population. Nearly a century of Jim Crow, lynchings and segregation followed. Despite these serious hurdles to expanding the franchise, Georgia still had 125,000 registered Black voters by 1947. This was the result of a combination of Black grassroots activism, the abolition of white-only primary elections and poll taxes, and a reduction in the voting age from 21 to 18.
For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. So, too, with voting. The Georgia GOP would be wise to look to history to understand what’s coming for them. The evils of racism were no match for the will of the people who for too long were disenfranchised because of the color of their skin.
Following her loss to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial race, which was itself marred by voter suppression, Stacey Abrams led the building of a voter registration machine that put Biden, Ossoff and Warnock over the finish line. As the GOP has tried its best to hold Georgia back, it has been met with fierce opposition from those tired of regressive politics.
If state Republicans succeed in further curbing voting rights, they should expect more resistance from their rivals, who believe in doing everything possible to expand the franchise and promote democracy. In fact, we should all do something to resist, protest, as some already have, and organize against such brazen attacks on our democratic institutions. Call and email your state representatives, register more people to vote and make clear to family and friends how you feel about this assault on our freedoms. The GOP’s anti-democratic agitation in the Trump era will ultimately fail to overcome the massive reaction it will inspire.
You reap what you sow, Georgia Republicans. You won’t be able to hold onto power that is not rightfully yours. Any attempts to do so will surely fail.
Jake Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Georgia.
Jake Busch (22C) is from Brookhaven, Georgia, majoring in history and English and creative writing. He also writes for the Wheel’s Editorial Board. Busch enjoys playing basketball, reading about and debating politics and trying different kinds of ice cream. He plans to become a civil rights attorney.