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Columns Main Slider Tom Baxter

Three counties that are a problem Republicans can’t solve with legislation

Voters using the voting machines to cast their ballots for the 2014 midterm election Tuesday morning, Nov. 4, 2014, at the polling place at Henry W. Grady High School in Atanta, Ga.

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.”

 

 

Featured Image Source: https://jagwire.augusta.edu/

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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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8 Comments

  1. Dana Blankenhorn March 2, 2021 9:45 am

    The Republican Party has chosen the path of Jim Crow, not just here but nationally. I would love to have a fiscally conservative choice, but I just can’t. Democracy is too precious.Report

    Reply
  2. Kevin Woods March 2, 2021 9:48 am

    Restricting voting…. or making sure votes are legal and valid?? The left propaganda that spills out of the media is unbelievable. Proving that you are the person voting makes sure elections are legal and accurate. Showing your ID to drink in a bar or to Drive a car is somehow not a issue but when you vote its a problem? Its 2021 and its time for people to be able to prove they are a legal voter. Many people do not trust the election process in GA and passing Senate Bill 67 will help bring trust back to GA elections. Write that Article.Report

    Reply
  3. Janet Tharp March 2, 2021 10:21 am

    The issue is not the ease with which a vote is cast, (weekend vs. workday) but rather the integrity of the vote. Voter ID and substantiated signatures are absolutely essential in assuring Georgia voters that our elections are above board and not fraudulent. This isn’t difficult and doesn’t disenfranchise anyone who can LEGALLY vote.Report

    Reply
  4. Kevin W Burke March 2, 2021 11:13 am

    I think the NBC analysis also dovetails with Charlie Hayslett’s ongoing analysis of the divide between the metro area and the rest of the state at https://troubleingodscountry.com/Report

    Reply
  5. Allison Troxell March 2, 2021 11:43 am

    Jon Ossoff doesn’t have an “h” in his name.Report

    Reply
    1. Tom Baxter March 2, 2021 4:35 pm

      Thank you. Easy to miss that one.Report

      Reply
  6. George Wilson March 2, 2021 12:01 pm

    More GOP-dominated states seeking to pass voter restrictions
    Trump supporters are retreating into a politics of grievance and obstruction, while Democrats are embracing policy and governance.
    For Republicans this was in full view at the annual conference of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), which has turned into a pro-Trump extreme right-wing gathering. Republican Senators Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Texas), Josh Hawley (Missouri), Tom Cotton (Arkansas), and Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) all spoke at the convention.
    They all talked about the new Democratic swamp in Washington, while we should note that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported that Trump reported his earnings from his businesses during his four years as president at $1.6 billion. The hypocrisy and lies on the part of Trump and his supporters continue unabated.
    Also, 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.
    Nationally, Republicans have conjured bogus election fraud to justify systematic voter suppression. Now they are attempting to operationally give fuel to this dangerous and “big lie” that massive fraud defeated Donald Trump. But how did it also elect more Republicans to Congress?
    According to the Brennan Center, thus far this year, 33 states have introduced, prefilled, or carried over 165 bills to restrict voting access. These proposals primarily seek to: (1) limit mail voting access; (2) impose stricter voter ID requirements; (3) slash voter registration opportunities; and (4) enable more aggressive voter roll purges.
    Arizona leads the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021, with 19 restrictive bills. Pennsylvania comes in second with 14 restrictive policy proposals, followed by Georgia (11 bills).
    Now is the time to start planning to take back the Georgia statehouse and curtail raids on our freedoms.Report

    Reply
  7. KBSC March 5, 2021 11:38 pm

    “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.”

    That should be Biden’s in *2020.Report

    Reply

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