If Governor Brian Kemp and his fellow Georgia Republicans wanted to send a positive message about that state’s new voting law, they could not have been happy with an image that went viral following its passage on March 25.
That image, captured by video and photos, was that of a Black female legislator, Park Cannon, being led out of the state Capitol in handcuffs by a group of much larger white male Georgia State Troopers.
On that day, Republican lawmakers and Gov. Kemp sped a sweepingly restrictive voting law into place, prompting outrage from Democrats and voting-rights advocates. Rep. Cannon, an Atlanta Democrat who represents the state’s 58th legislative district, is one of them.
After the bill’s passage, Kemp chose to sign the bill via a live-streamed event in his office, the door closed. A video shows Cannon approaching the door, knocking on it, and requesting to be allowed in. Georgia State Troopers closed in and told her to stop. When she didn’t, she was handcuffed, led out of the Capitol, and charged with obstruction of law enforcement, as well as “preventing or disrupting General Assembly sessions or other meetings of members.” Later that evening was released from jail on $6,000 bond.
Jim Crow’s Newest Chapter?
Georgia, of course, is a southern state, and one with a less than admirable legacy of Jim Crow laws designed to enforce racial segregation. So Cannon’s expulsion from the Capitol prompted critical comparisons to a dark period of Georgia’s history. Critics suggest that the new law is Jim Crow redux, the latest effort to keep racial minorities from having power.
Kemp and supporters of the bill say the new law is nothing of the sort. They tout it as an effort to restore “trust” and “fairness” in the state’s voting laws following the 2020 general election. They contend that greatly expanded use of absentee voting and other measures prompted by the pandemic has resulted in public mistrust.
Critics say there’s no evidence to support claims that things are amiss, and that Republican lawmakers in Georgia want to restrict voting because that is how Republicans might cling to power.
An Immediate Legal Challenge
It didn’t take long for opponents of the new law to file suit. The evening of the bill’s passage, three groups – the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise Inc. – filed a lawsuit challenging the new law.
“In large part because of the racial disparities in areas outside of voting – such as socioeconomic status, housing, and employment opportunities – the Voter Suppression Bill disproportionately impacts Black voters, and interacts with these vestiges of discrimination in Georgia to deny Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and/or elect a candidate of their choice,” the lawsuit says.
If it survives legal challenge, the new Georgia law would impose a potpourri of restrictions:
- New voter identification requirements for absentee ballots
- Empowerment of state officials to take over local election boards
- Limitations on ballot drop boxes
- Making it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food or water
The National Picture
It’s not just Georgia. Efforts to restrict voting are underway in many states.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 253 bills to restrict voting have been introduced in 43 states as of Feb. 19. At the same time, 704 bills to expand voting have been introduced in a different set of 43 states.
Clearly, Americans are of two minds about voting.
Meanwhile, Congress may step into the picture. On March 3, the Democratic-controlled House passed a bill on a near party-line 220-210 vote to remove barriers to voting. A similar measure is currently under consideration in the Senate, where the road to passage may be tougher.
A deep divide separates the two sides on this issue – those who seek preservation or expansion of voting rights and those who seek to restrict them. We are nowhere near any resolution of this critical issue. The fight continues.