Before this presidency, it didn’t occur to most Americans that their president would more likely than not try to openly and shamelessly steal a presidential election. It probably would never have crossed our minds before now that a sitting president might refuse to leave office if not re-elected. Sure, we’ve had contested elections in the past; and when we suspected that an office or seat was given unfairly or dishonestly, we were shocked and angered.
In America in 2020, however, many Americans, though angered, are no longer shocked. We have come to expect that Donald Trump and his allies will do what they can to remove fairness from any election in the U.S.
The current GOP, who has historically prided itself on the idea of more, not less, personal freedom, and less, not more, government regulation, has in fact waged a war on democracy and personal freedoms for years.
They’ve done their best to prevent safe and legal abortions, even though the freedom to have an abortion has been protected by law since 1973. They’ve turned themselves inside out in their efforts to prevent same-sex marriage, as well as various other basic human rights for the LGBTQ community. They’ve tried to force a particularly strict, intolerant, exclusionist brand of Christianity—Fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity—onto Americans as the religion that would govern the decisions made by legislators and courts. And not only can’t a lot of them bring themselves to take a stand against systemic racism, many of them, through their action (or inaction) support it.
They’ve tried to undermine free and fair access to voting, citing “widespread voter fraud,” even though evidence shows that voter fraud is rare. They’ve practiced gerrymandering to benefit their own party. And, riding on their president’s bandwagon, they’re trying to prevent as many Americans as possible from voting by mail, despite the threat of COVID-19 for people who would vote in person.
Now, we have only to look at Georgia’s primary election this week to conclude that the latest tool in the GOP Democracy-squelching box of tools is the use of more widespread, blatant, and unapologetic voter suppression tactics. In a situation one usually associates with authoritarian banana republics, thousands of Georgia voters found it impossible or nearly so to cast their votes on Tuesday.
Many voters who had requested mail-in ballots, including African American Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, never received them. Others received their mail-in ballots, but were unable to use them.
Former Democratic candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams, who lost the election to Republican Kemp by a narrow margin, said that her ballot had arrived with the return label sealed, and thus unusable.
“I tried to steam it open because I watched a lot of ‘Perry Mason.’ It didn’t work, so I had to go vote in person,” Abrams said.
In some areas, new voting machines were not delivered in time for the election, and as a result, some voters showed up to precincts where they couldn’t vote, or had to wait for the slow process of manual vote processing. Some precincts didn’t have enough paper ballots to accommodate voters.
Many election officials were not trained in using the voting machines at the precincts where they were delivered. Electronic voting equipment often produced errors, again requiring votes to be slowly processed by hand.
Even voters who had shown up at 7 a.m. and were at the beginning of the line often had to wait for hours to vote because their precincts didn’t open on time.
One woman, who had gotten in line early in order to vote before having a scheduled surgery later that day, waited for hours, only to discover that her precinct was one of those that didn’t have any machines. She finally had to get out of line, and didn’t get to vote.
“This is a way of discouraging people from voting,” said the woman’s husband, who is African American. “It’s unacceptable. If we’re going through this now, just think what November is going to be like.”
Another voter, Bobby Fuse, a Democratic activist, said, “It’s the same game that we were fighting 50 years ago. There’s always some sneaky trick that’s played. This time, they had a whole bunch of sneaky tricks.”
Though both Republicans and Democrats hurled blame at each other for what happened in Georgia on Tuesday, Georgia has long been troubled by allegations of voter disenfranchisement and voter suppression by Republicans, particularly in communities that are predominantly African-American. For generations, civil rights groups and African American leaders have fought policies implemented by Republican officials, most recently led by Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, when he was Georgia’s secretary of state.
Is it just coincidence that those who most felt the impact from the voting chaos on Tuesday were again African American voters and their communities?
Cliff Albright, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, said that what happened on Georgia’s Election Day indicates that authorities either “don’t care about our vote or they care about our vote and they know the power of our vote and they are intentionally trying to suppress it. But,” he said, “People waited it out. That means they are passionate about voting.”
Many American communities have known for generations what more and more “mainstream” white Americans are discovering: We can never take for granted that being American will always guarantee that we’ll be able to freely vote, or that a corrupt president will be justly dealt with. But we must not stop standing in line, and we must not stop showing up.
Georgia election problems reported as long lines and computer problems arise | 11 Alive [2020-06-09]
Georgia voters experience major voting issues during primary election | CBS News [2020-06-10]