Three counties that are a problem Republicans can’t solve with legislation
By Tom Baxter
Last week, as Georgia legislators were talking about limiting drop boxes and weekend voting, NBC News released an analysis which speaks powerfully to what was going on under the Golden Dome.
NBC looked at every county and parish in the country, and found that between the presidential elections of 2008 and 2020, Democrats saw their biggest percentage gains in Rockdale, Henry and Gwinnett. The swing toward the Democrats in all three counties was close to 25 percentage points.
Not only were these the top three counties in the country, but seven of the eight counties with the biggest swing toward the Democrats — these three plus Cobb, Douglas, Fayette and Forsyth — were in Metro Atlanta. Donald Trump still carried Fayette and Forsyth, but by a narrower margin than Republicans in previous elections.
These massive percentage swings help explain how Joe Biden carried Georgia last year, and their volatility is in sharp contrast to most of the country, where most counties have seen only marginal partisan swings between Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and Biden’s in 2012. When we look at these counties from the perspective of other statewide races, the changes are even more revealing.
The state’s most important election so far this century was 2002, when Georgia turned decisively Republican. That year Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale gave Sonny Perdue a combined margin of about 45,000 votes in the governors race, and Saxby Chambliss a 55,000 vote margin in the U.S. Senate race.
The first cracks in the suburban Republican wall began to show up in Rockdale, which voted for Democrat Jim Martin over Chambliss in the 2008 U.S. Senate race and for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Over the next decade those cracks continued to widen.
The other part of this story is the explosive growth of these counties over the period we’re talking about. In the Jan. 5 runoffs, Jon Ossoff beat David Perdue in Gwinnett-Henry-Rockdale by some 120,000 votes and Raphael Warnock beat Kelly Loeffler by a 122,000-vote margin. That’s two to three times the size of the margin Republicans got in the three counties in 2002.
One characteristic of these outer suburban counties is a diversity which goes far beyond the traditional black-white political equation, and that was clearly reflected in the debate Monday afternoon on HB 531, which would limit ballot boxes and weekend voting and put new restrictions on absentee voting.
Compared to the Republican House members who spoke for the bill, the Democrats who spoke in opposition, including those with roots in Germany, Jamaica and Korea, looked like the United Nations.
That tells the larger story about this bill and the rest of the legislation Republicans have introduced after Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential election. Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver said during the debate that people who live “busy and complicated lives” should have a wide range of voting choices.
That describes most of the people who live in Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale. Many of them are newcomers who might become confused or frustrated by new rules and limitations.The changes being proposed by Republicans, if some version of them becomes law and stands up in court, could affect some elections in the short term. But in the places where Republicans are losing ground fastest, restricting voting is more likely irritate voters than to be an answer to the Republicans’ problem. It will not stop a demographic tide.
Monday’s debate in the House felt like one in which both sides knew how the vote was going to go, and both sides had a premonition about how things were going to turn out in the end.
“Every time the rules change, we’ll learn to play the game,” Democratic Rep. Al Williams told his Republican colleagues Monday. “See you in the next election.”
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