Voting rights and wrongs: Part 2

Greg Markley

By Greg Markley

In 1974, I was fascinated as a high school senior about a contest for a state House seat. The primary was several months away and polled as very close. Both candidates had the surname “Arusso” which was confusing. Voters would have to know candidate’s first names.

Then, one candidate legally changed his name to “AArusso” (this was in RI, not known for its ethical politicians). Yes, the AA man did win, helped by guessers. It’s common for voters who don’t know certain candidates to pick the first name they see on the candidate list. It helped the AA guy, he won!

The AArusso case shows that many politicians will use whatever tactics and strategy they can. By cutting access to voting for their opponents’ backers, or by changing laws to benefit themselves, victory becomes more likely for them. “Every great political campaign rewrites the rules; devising a new way to win is what gives campaigns a comparative advantage against their foes.” — John Podhoretz, political writer.

I analyzed the federal For the People Act last week; today I look at a major new Georgia which has its foes and fans. This law has been signed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. It is most likely a response to key Democratic wins in a state where the GOP dominated politics for decades. Opponents of the new law are said to be preparing lawsuits against it.

In 2020, Democratic nominee Joe Biden edged out Donald Trump for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes. Later, two Democrats were elected U.S. senators. Enough Republicans heeded President Trump’s call that the Senate election “would be a fraud” so why should GOP voters participate? (The Democrats both won by less than 1% !)

This law is criticized for its potential to discourage voting, especially for African Americans, as registering and getting to the correct sites in time are more difficult. A person’s registration can be challenged by troublemakers, not only well-meaning souls. In Georgia, Marie Antoinette the Queen of France from the late 18th Century would not be welcome at these lines. No one can give anyone in a voting line water or food and certainly won’t “Let them eat cake!”

Peach State legislators apparently think offering food or water to individuals makes them more likely to stay and vote — my, my, it keeps people’s eyes on the prize — pulling that lever or marking that box. In defense of elections officials, I understand that advocates for candidates must not get too close to the voting site. Here’s a good solution: voters themselves can take a bottle or more of water with them.

As for the new provision allowing for unlimited challenges to a voter’s registration, Lauren Groh-Wargo says “this is just opening an even worse Pandora’s box of race-based, ethnicity-based challenges.” Wargo is the CEO of Fair Fight, an anti-voter suppression organization based in Atlanta.

I agree with the bill’s sponsors that mail-in voting oversight must be tightened. Voters are now required to provide their driver’s license or state ID number, or a photocopy of their ID. To me, that’s not a show stopper for wannabe voters. Most everyone has an ID with a decent photo. Also, third-party groups cannot send these applications to voters anymore. These groups may be valid, but people should get their own absentee applications; it’s not that difficult.

 Two changes in the law sound like they come from former President Trump’s Playbook, after he failed to convince Georgia officials to find “fraud” where there was none. First, it removes the secretary of state, Georgia’s top elections official, from chairing the state election board, and allows the Legislature to fill a majority of that board’s seats. This makes it possible for the Legislature to control certification of elections and voting rules in the state.

With partisanship rife, it’s best to have the secretary of state certify because he or she is directly accountable and less threatened by legislators or an unruly American president. Second, the law empowers the state election board to suspend or replace local election officials and delay certification. This makes it easier for them to corrupt the process and official results. Very bad!

 According to TargetSmart, 76% of Georgia voters don’t want the legislature to strip authority from elections officials. And 77% of voters would not prohibit giving food and water to voters on line. “I say from time to time that the vote is precious,” noted voting rights legend John Lewis. “It’s almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument that we have in a democratic society. And we must use it.” Still, don’t abuse it by changing your name to be top-of-the-ballot. I know, I know, it worked for Mr. AArusso.

Greg Markley first moved to Lee County in 1996. He has Masters’ in education and history. He taught politics as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama. An award-winning writer in the Army and civilian life, he has contributed to the Observer for 9 years.


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