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Atlanta Civic Circle Columns Tom Baxter

Absentee voting laws are really about one party’s identity

By Tom Baxter

What with the speaker and the lieutenant governor being cool to the idea, and the pandemic hanging low over the Golden Dome right now, it appears unlikely Republicans will be able to push through an absentee voting bill very quickly this year.

That’s lucky for Georgia Republicans, because there are a lot of ways this could explode in their faces, and a lot of their own voters pushing them to light the match.

This is also a redistricting year, which might give Republicans to reflect on the errors of the past. When Democrats got creative with the maps in order to head off a rising Republican majority, it only served to enrage voters being squeezed like toothpaste into the funny squiggles they had drawn.

Changing how people vote, and the districts they’re voting in, could be an even more combustible combination. If there’s a drop box a mile from your house, and both it and the House member you voted for last year get taken away, you’re not likely to be happy about it. There’s a lot of potential for this in the North Metro area, where the line-drawers will be looking to make life harder for Democrats Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux.

With Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff now in the Senate, there’s a stronger chance for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, meaning that whatever action the General Assembly takes on ballot access issues could come under Justice Department scrutiny.

There are places in Georgia where there are enough reliable Republican voters to decide things on Election Day. There are other places, especially after the new map shifts some voters around, where Republicans are going to need to use every tool they have to get out most of their voters. Most of what’s being proposed in these absentee voting “reforms” is not going to be helpful in these districts. There’s a reason why Republicans put the current system in place, and it wasn’t to be charitable.

A complicating factor, as Republicans contemplate the best way forward, is whether they’re talking about that old GOP, which was interested in making voting convenient for upscale suburban voters, or the party of Donald Trump. The former president has even talked about forming a “Patriot’s Party,” which presumably would have changes in the voting system as a founding plank. Suppose he does. Will sitting legislators have to choose whether they’re drawing the lines and making the rules for one party or the other?

Georgia has been described as the center of the Republican drive to change the voting laws in the wake unhappiness with the result of the last election. The ideas range from a Texas legislator who has introduced a measure to require that all voting machines be made in the United States to a North Dakota proposal that resident would have to live in the same place for a year before they could vote. A lot of these proposals will get weeded out in this year’s legislative sessions but this will be one of the arenas in which Republicans or future Patriots sort out their differences over the next several months.

What is truly dangerous for Republicans about all this tinkering with election laws is that it prolongs the idea that eliminating drop boxes or requiring more identification for absentee voting would really change very much, no matter what the merits of any particular measure may be.

On the first day of early voting in Georgia, there were Democrats who waited in line more than 10 hours to vote. As the days went on, some lines took on a party atmosphere. The widely repeated assertion by Trump supporters that an “enthusiasm gap” proves their candidate really won the election is simply a demonstration of how cut off from each other black and white and red and blue America really are.

Republican lawmakers around the country are no longer hostage to Trump, so much as they are to the Republican base which believes the presidential election was stolen. (By the way, have there been any complaints about the Senate runoffs being stolen? I haven’t heard any.) So long as they try to retrospectively fix the last election, they will postpone what they need to do to win the next one.

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Tom Baxter

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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1 Comment

  1. Dana F. Blankenhorn January 26, 2021 9:42 am

    The Voting Rights Act was overturned because it only applied to some states. Now Jim Crow is everywhere, even in Wisconsin and Ohio. National election standards are needed.

    Republicans, as opposed to Trumpublicans, should also avoid gerrymandering. That’s what really fueled the Trumpublicans’ rise, the idea that candidates only had to appeal to one party. Open primaries in competitive districts would benefit both sides of the aisle. As it is, the Trumpublican Party threatens to become a permanent rump, because business won’t go for Jim Crow.Report

    Reply

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