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Atlanta Civic Circle Columns Democracy Main Slider Tom Baxter

The next election won’t be like the one the voting bill is based on

By Tom Baxter

If they had been thinking more about the next election than the last one, the voting bill passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp might have been a lot different.

The last election was a contest of giants, with Georgia playing a prominent (though not decisive, as some now claim) role in the presidential election, and electing two U.S. senators. There’s going to be a doozy of governor’s race in 2022, and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock will be defending his seat in a race which could determine the next Senate majority. But this will be the first election after redistricting has changed the political map. In such elections, the real drama always moves farther down the ballot, where political survival becomes a bigger factor than partisan fervor.

All the legislators who voted last week on on SB 202, one way or another, represent districts which have grown as familiar and comfortable as old walking shoes. In 2022, they’ll be running in districts which have changed at least a little, and in some cases a lot. Their voters won’t know them quite as well, and will be more likely to cast their ballots based on the most recent information they have.

On Monday, pollster Rachel Bitecofer released a survey she did for the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling of 1,220 Georgians, split 48-48 percent between Joe Biden and Donald Trump voters. It showed a dramatic polarization in their views on questions such as whether Biden’s election was legitimate, or the Jan. 6 event at the U.S. Capitol was an armed insurrection.

About the closest these voters came to agreement on anything was whether they supported limiting access to voting for some people if it helped their party. Only 10 percent of all voters support that idea, and only 12 percent of Trump voters.

This won’t make much difference in the districts that come out of the redistricting special session later this year a little redder. It could matter a lot more in districts where Republicans can already expect a tough fight.

Ironically, the clip these embattled Republicans will want to study is Gabriel Sterling’s articulate defense of SB 202 on the PBS News last Friday. Sterling and his boss, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, were prime targets of the anger over the outcome of the presidential election in Georgia, and the bill strips Raffensperger of his role as chair of the State Election Board. They support the voting bill as a means of quelling that anger, but Raffensperger is going to get primaried anyway.

Conservatives rail against RINOs, or Republicans in Name Only. Yet in all this fever of election “reform,” there has been no proposal to make party registration a requirement for voting in a primary.

With both Kemp and Raffensperger facing probable opposition, the 2022 Republican primary is likely to be a lot more interesting than its Democratic counterpart, particularly if former President Donald Trump gets involved. Normally, crossover voting doesn’t have much impact in party primaries, but the 2022 Republican primary is going to be a free-for-all in which anyone, RINO, DINO or otherwise, can participate.

Trump’s questioning of the presidential vote in Georgia and his voters’ overwhelming belief in his claims — only 12 percent of the Georgia Republicans in that poll said Biden’s election was legitimate — is the reason this and similar bills around the country have been introduced. Despite all the calculations which have been predicated on it, however, there’s no guarantee Trump will continue to be the same political force he has been, particularly for Republicans at the state legislative level.

The Republican takeover of the General Assembly a couple of decades ago was pretty much foreordained. But nationwide, the GOP gained its decisive advantage in state legislatures with the help of literally billions from the Koch brothers. David Koch has since died and Charles Koch, considerably soured by the Trump years, has publicly regretted spending the money because it deepened the country’s political divide. Whether his comment was entirely serious or not, the days of big-money activism are giving way to Trump’s brand of populism.

Big Money will always speak, but not as loudly, and this could be a problem for many Republicans down the food chain. Meanwhile SB 202 and its companion bills around the country have given Democrats their biggest fundraising opportunity in many a year.

Due to the pandemic, the Census Bureau’s normal report deadlines have been shifted, and the final redistricting counts aren’t scheduled to go out to the states until Sept. 30. That means it will be quite a while before the legislators who voted for SB 202 will know exactly the ground on which they’ll have to defend it.

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. George Wilson March 30, 2021 2:50 pm

    Georgia and many other states dominated by Republicans are trying to dismantle voting rights and create a new era of Jim Crow. The Republicans have only two paths to get and retain political power. The first is to rig the system with voter suppression laws and gerrymandering. The second is the hard way: encouraging multiple ethnicities and innovative solutions to local, state, and national problems. In the state of Georgia, in particular, they have so far chosen the easy way, voter suppression. It might turn out to bite them.Report

  2. Dana F. Blankenhorn March 30, 2021 2:52 pm

    Most analysts assume redistricting will only help Republicans, because the technology for gerrymandering keeps improving. You can stuff all the Democrats into a few districts and give pretty big “standard” margins to Republicans using current technology.

    The idea of Democrats voting in Republican primaries is interesting, but I’ve seen no indication Democrats are willing to engage in such ruthlessness in order to tilt the GOP in the state toward reasonableness. Wouldn’t it be wiser to let the Republicans go with the MTG brigade and then push Republican-leaning businessmen to switch their state allegiance? Here’s what Iwrote on the subject, FYI https://www.danablankenhorn.com/2021/03/the-barnes-precedent.html

    Anyway, good piece. Lots of stuff worth thinking about.Report


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