Jim Crow is alive and well in Georgia after Gov. Brian Kemp rushed Thursday evening to sign into law a sweeping Republican-sponsored overhaul of state election laws that includes new restrictions on voting and gives the legislature — not the elected secretary of state — control over how elections are run.
Kemp and his GOP ilk call the new law "reform." Democrats call it "Jim Crow 2.0."
It came about after Joe Biden won the state's presidential election by 11,779 votes, and Georgia voters sent two Democrats to the U.S. Senate — John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Republicans who penned the 95-page bill said the legislation addresses problems with the election process. Never mind that the so-called "problems" of fraud or irregularities were completely debunked after Georgia's elections became the most reviewed, most recounted and most scrutinized in the nation.
The new law includes a new photo identification requirement for absentee ballots in place of the traditional signature match policy. It restricts hours and locations of absentee ballot drop boxes. It makes it illegal for citizens to hand out food or drink to voters waiting in long lines at a polling places. It requires Georgia's election administrators to continue counting ballots until finished, without a break. It cuts Georgia's runoff election period in half, from nine weeks to four weeks and forbids "souls to the polls" operations for runoff elections.
But the most ominous provision is one that allows the State Election Board to intervene in county election management. The new law strips the statewide-elected Georgia secretary of state of his role as chairman of that State Election Board and replaces him with someone chosen by the Georgia General Assembly.
If you don't understand what about this is ominous, let us remind you of former President Donald Trump's repeated entreaties to Georgia election officials, Gov. Kemp, and officials of other states where he lost to interfere with and change vote counts. In one recorded call in Georgia, Trump even asked election officials there to "find me votes." The losing Trump even had a specific number: "I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have."
Georgia's new law also is ominous because the legislation is just one of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states around the country after Trump and his GOP henchmen stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 defeat.
We now can count on any state with a GOP-controlled legislature following suit. We're saddened that Georgia was the first.
Biden, in his first news conference as president on Tuesday called these GOP-state actions "un-American" and "sick."
"Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line, waiting to vote; deciding that you're going to end voting at five o'clock when working people are just getting off work; deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances. The Republican voters I know find this despicable. This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle."
The free right to vote should not be a partisan matter. We should all be about supporting the right to vote. Period.
Perhaps, however, some good might come from the earthquake of Georgia's new law. Perhaps if anything can create a permission structure for Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — two who've been cool to the idea of scrapping the filibuster — this might be it. They can say, "I didn't want to do this, but ..."
After all, aren't new Jim Crow state laws like this simply handing over voters to GOP politics? And isn't negating any person's vote tossing away the keys of true democracy?
Increasingly, it seems nothing short of federal legislation to provide guardrails for all elections will fix this.
With that kind of legislation (there's a bill now called the We the People Act), Congress could set national voting standards for federal elections — standards for all states to conduct early voting, mail-in voting, automatic voter registration or nonpartisan congressional district map-drawing.
It is widely believed that the We the People legislation cannot pass without, at a minimum, reforming, if not doing away with, the filibuster.
One of the most telling moments of Biden's press conference came when he was asked if he agreed with former president Barack Obama's recent statement that the Senate filibuster is a relic of the Jim Crow era. Biden said he did, and immediately was confronted with a follow-up question: "Why not abolish it if it's a relic of the Jim Crow era?"
The president, having earlier talked about reforming two decades of filibuster abuse by requiring anyone invoking it to have to stand and talk continuously, took a long pause.
"Successful politics is the art of the possible," he said finally. "Let's deal with the abuse first."
That's not a bad look for a president who has one of the most ambitious agendas of any American leader in the last half century: pandemic, economy, climate, infrastructure, immigration, voting rights.
We're not convinced he's right, but he sounds like a man who knows where he's going and how he's going to get there. Just as Georgia voters did on Nov. 3.
No wonder the GOP is running scared.