Remember back in 2021, when many in our nation were up in arms about a new law passed in Georgia that reformed how and when individuals could vote in the state? It was big news at the time. Stacey Abrams called it “Jim Crow 2.0” and President Joe Biden called it “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Many in the media insisted it was an attempt to suppress voter turnout and particularly disenfranchise black and minority voters. The breathless indignation got so bad that the CEOs of Georgia-based Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola both made public statements calling the law “unacceptable,” and Major League Baseball decided to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver.
Well, it’s been a bit since the law went into effect, and we have managed to have some important elections since then. I think it makes sense to take a look at how the law actually affected turnout, and if the claims were prophetic or merely political fear-mongering.
In the primary election for 2022, more people voted in Georgia than in any mid-term or primary election in the history of Georgia politics, excepting for presidential election years. Interestingly, more early votes were cast than in any election year ever, including the 2020 pandemic presidential election. Then came the general election turnout which nearly tripled the previous midterm election turnout and set another record for most numbers of votes cast in a midterm. All of this is despite condemnation from critics of the law that it would particularly suppress turnout and specifically suppress early voting.
The Southern Poverty Law Center decried in an April 2021 news article that the law would “hamper the right to vote” “make virtually every aspect of early voting more difficult” and “Because of this law voting lines will now be even longer.” This did not turn out to be true. A poll from the University of Georgia found that 90% of voters thought it was easy to vote in the midterm elections, and most voters waited less than 30 minutes to cast a vote. Overall, 95% of voters described their voting experience as “excellent” or “good.” Just 0.6% said their experience was “poor.” This trend held among black voters. According to the poll, 0% described their voting experience as poor. More than 96% deemed it excellent or good. A total of 99.5% of black voters did not name a problem while voting, and just 0.8% thought their county’s election officials performed poorly.
So what about the hue and cry about all of the changes the law made to voting access? Surely some of those held at least a kernel of truth. Well, not really. Assertions were made that voting hours were ordered to be shortened. That wasn’t true, but the law did reduce the number of days for early voting to a number much larger than before 2020, but smaller than the huge expansion that happened during the pandemic. Again, there was a record turnout, so the reduced number of days for early voting did not seem to have a negative effect as far as the data reflects. Perhaps this was because early voting actually remained greatly expanded from what it was before the pandemic.
Claims were made that the law banned voting drop boxes. Interestingly, the voting drop boxes that were established for the first time during the pandemic appeared to violate the then-current Georgia voting law, but this law legalized those drop boxes and mandated the placement of a drop box in every county. In making this mandate, the new law required that drop boxes be properly secured and under 24-hour surveillance. Somehow critics thought that was a bad thing, but again, it did not seem to have an ill effect on turnout.
It was claimed that the law made it illegal for an election official to mail out an absentee ballot to a voter unless the voter had requested one. This was true, as it repealed the emergency COVID measure that allowed a ballot to be mailed to every voter to avoid contact at the polls. This seems to have been a common sense and money-saving measure, and it again does not seem to have reduced turnout.
Finally, it was claimed that the law made it illegal to give someone food or water while they were standing in line at the polls. This seems to have been pure hyperbole that somehow got attention in the media and had pundits repeating this lie over and over. The law outlawed distributing gifts to voters at the polls to influence their votes, but it did not mention criminalizing food and water and to interpret it otherwise is simply dishonest.
So what does all this mean? Mostly I just thought it interesting that even after Georgia allegedly passed “Jim Crow 2.0” it still had a record turnout and virtually everyone polled was pleased with the process. Sometimes the media can get a talking point and the whole thing spirals out of control. One final note, after many in the media decried this supposedly foul law, several movie productions decided to not film in Georgia, and, as noted above, the All-Star Game was moved. Despite this, the Democratic Party has still decided to hold its convention in Georgia. The law has not been changed, but apparently, the boycott is over.
John Judkins is a Greenfield attorney.