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Robert A. George writes editorials on education and other policy issues for Bloomberg Opinion.
If elections have consequences, as the cliche goes, then so do lies. Both kinds of consequences were on display last week in Georgia.
On the same night that former President Donald Trump was on Fox News minimizing the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law restricting voting rights in the state. Think of it as the legislative response to Trump’s false claim that rampant voter fraud denied him a victory in Georgia.
With his comments — among other observations, he said that the Jan. 6 mob was “zero threat” to the police or Congress — Trump was attempting to create an alibi for those who came to Washington because he told them the election was stolen and marched on the Capitol in his name. The work of federal law enforcement, building the case against the rioters, will now be fed into the Trumpist grievance grinder. How long before the attack itself is deemed yet another “hoax”?
No matter that one police officer died following his violent encounter with protesters, or that two others took their own lives shortly thereafter, or that countless others were injured, or that more than 400 people have been charged in connection to, yes, an insurrection designed to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Who are you going to believe — Trump or your own lying eyes?
Georgia’s new election law, meanwhile, represents a sad 180-degree turn by Kemp — the same man who, despite enormous pressure from Trump, stood his ground on the integrity of Georgia’s November election. That brief bravery placed a bull’s-eye on Kemp’s back. Not only has Trump targeted him for defeat next year, the former president has already endorsed a challenger to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who also stood up to Trump’s (possibly illegal) intimidation tactics.
Kemp signed a law that removes much of the election oversight from local counties and the secretary of state — giving much authority to the state legislature. If there is a replay of 2020’s close election in 2024, the legislature could very well disenfranchise Georgia voters, who may well cast a majority of their ballots to the Democrats. The test run will be in 2022, when not only is Kemp up for reelection but so is new Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
The legislation also includes language limiting the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots. They now can be placed only at early-voting locations and be open only during business hours. So the drop box where Kemp himself voted in November is no more.
True, Georgia Republicans were shamed into removing a suggested ban on Sunday voting efforts, which was apparently deemed too much of a blatant assault on Black “Souls to the Polls” voter-turnout efforts. They did, however, manage to make it a crime to give food or water to someone waiting to vote — an equally overt attempt at Black voter suppression.
There are fewer polling locations in predominantly Black neighborhoods in Georgia than in white ones. As a result, lines are consistently longer in Black neighborhoods. That was true in Atlanta in the primary and the general election. Add in language that reduces the number of early voting days and the net result is clear: a system designed to wear down Black voters.
If some Good Samaritan gives bottled water away, they have now committed a crime. While self-service water stations can be set up, how many will be needed if the line stretches around the corner? Think a voter will come to a polling place sufficiently well-hydrated for an endurance test? More likely, especially if it’s hot, a hungry or tired voter will give up and head home.
For Georgia Republicans, that counts as mission accomplished. Or rather, vote suppressed.
So far, Trump’s false claim about a stolen election has produced an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and inspired an attempt at vote suppression in Georgia. (And similar legislation is being introduced in other states.) Republicans, with “evidence” largely arising from Trump’s conspiratorial mind, say that the electoral system can no longer be trusted. Voters need to ask themselves whether, when it comes to protecting their rights, the Republican Party can be trusted.