In late December, U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood lambasted a lawuit and a related emergency order filed by the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the campaigns of GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. The GOP suit argued, without evidence, that hundreds of new voters registered in Georgia since November had cast ballots in other states, and it sought to set aside those particular votes for scrutiny and questioning.
Judge Wood attacked the suit, complaining that segregating ballots in such a manner could prompt potential voters not to vote.
“We do have a risk of suppressing other voters from coming in,” said Wood. “I’m concerned on a number of levels with what it would mean to—at this point—switch course. … There might be voters who are confused about what it means to have your vote set aside for possible later questioning.”
“How would setting aside these ballots result in proving someone voted for the Senate twice?” Wood also asked the GOP plaintiffs.
Democrats say the suit, which was one of several filed by Republicans, seeks to discourage voter turnout in a pivotal run-off election that will decide if Senate leader Mitch McConnell keeps control of the U.S. Senate. If in control, McConnell will likely destroy every effort by incoming president Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to repair the damage to the national economy and fight the pandemic raging across the nation.
Federal courts have been busily dismissing the GOP lawsuits, including the one challenging Georgia’s method for processing returned absentee ballots, but efforts to stomp the vote continues. Local Republicans are also trying to toss 16,000 voter registrations in Cobb County, near Atlanta, using faulty data based on address changes.
Abdul Dosunmu is founder and chief strategist for the Young Black Lawyers’ Organizing Coalition (YBLOC), a non-partisan organization that seeks to encourage voter registration and turnout. Dosunmu says the intense scrutiny of ballots and votes in the weeks leading up to the January runoff amounts to more than just scrutiny.
“’Scrutinizing’ is too kind of a word for what’s happening. What they are doing … is limiting ballot access. Oftentimes when you look at these initiatives, they’re concentrated and focused disproportionately upon Black and Latinx communities,” Dosunmu told Lighthouse. “It’s important for us to understand that not only is there an attempt to limit ballot access generally, but there’s an attempt to limit ballot access in particular communities.”
Discouraging voting, he added, has been an issue in the U.S. from the beginning, of course. It is no secret that the vote was reserved for white, male property owners at the beginning of U.S. “democracy,” and that the nation has engaged in tactics of discouraging certain voters for most of its 200 years of existence.
“There have always been folks attempting to limit and undermine the Black political voice because maybe they’re afraid of Black folks having a full say in the future of this democracy. But were we to have a democracy at all it would have to be a democracy that allows the full voice of all people.”
Dosunmu looked beyond the countless lawsuits and included in that suppression effort the work of Georgia leaders’ to reduce polling places in mostly-minority communities. The polling place reductions began days after Black voters came out in record numbers to flip the state blue in the presidential election. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the ACLU’s Georgia branch and other groups have already complained that officials’ decision to close six of the 11 early-voting sites that were used for the November general election in Cobb County, for example, will be “harmful to Cobb County’s Black and Latinx voters…”
Dosunmu agreed many of the closures are concentrated in Black and brown communities, but also appear to target weekend hours, even as data suggests Black and brown voters vote at higher rates on weekends.
“Understand that this is all part of the landscape of vote suppression that is becoming much more sophisticated than it has been,” Dosunmu said. He added the sheer crowd of lawsuits, rule changes and press coverage were working to confuse many nervous voters over what rules apply where, and how they affect them.
Some voters’ heads are probably spinning from new election information and potential rule changes coming out of Georgia. The Lighthouse urges every voter with questions to call nonpartisan voter resource support groups such as 1-866-OURVOTE. Volunteers with legal training are working the 1-866-OURVOTE hotline and can give callers real-time information on vote hours and locations; they also offer assistance, if citizens find they can’t vote for any reason. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.
Voters are, apparently, fired up over the election, despite a crowd of legal attempts and desperate political moves to discourage them. News organizations are reporting record turnout in early voting for Georgia’s runoff election. Nearly 1 million voters cast ballots in the first four days of early voting, and many voters who had initially received absentee ballots were choosing to turn in their mailed-out ballot and vote in person with a regular ballot, in an effort to avoid mistakes.
These numbers arrived on the heels of yet another decision by a federal judge to protect voters. U.S. District Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner ordered two Georgia counties to reverse a move to dump more than 4,000 voters from the rolls ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff. The judge concluded the counties appeared to have used unverified change-of-address information to invalidate the registrations.