One of the causes of the current, clearly adverse political divide is that we don’t necessarily understand all issues and incidents. In fact, we don’t even know what we don’t know. That’s true for you. Me. Pretty much all of us. I wish that truth kept us humble. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. We unfortunately each error.
One of the current issues pushed by some is the focus on voting rights. So let’s examine and make today’s post primarily informative. My goal is not to promote any perspective; my goal is to eradicate the rhetoric and sift through fact. Know, too, that it is completely valid to have different opinions regarding different ballot/voting provisions. But it’s difficult to discuss when we are unknowingly ill-informed.
Voting rights are “a set of legal and constitutional protections designed to ensure the opportunity to vote in local, state, and federal elections.”1 In order to ensure “consent of the governed” — that government’s authority is derived from the will of the people, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence — two equal priorities exist: every eligible voter should have access to vote and no ineligible vote should be cast. If either priority is diminished, “consent of the governed” is potentially negated.
Part of ensuring said consent was setting a single date to appoint presidential electors. In 1792, the 2nd Congress decided there would exist 34 days to vote. However, “as travel and communication methods became faster in the 19th century, potential manipulation and fraud concerns grew.”2 The 1844 election — in which Democrat James K. Polk defeated Whig Henry Clay — was rife with fraud allegations. Hence, when debating a bill that would set a uniform presidential Election Day, House members declared the goal was “to guard against frauds in the elections of President and Vice President.”3
Noting that states have made various, legitimate exceptions in the years since, changes were necessary to the voting process in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 in order to make it easier to maintain the distancing and isolation that the health crisis necessitated. The state-led efforts, though, prioritized voter access. Now that the pandemic is evolving into an endemic, states have made efforts to again adhere to both priorities: access and eligibility.
Recorrecting after the pandemic’s climax, some states are perceived to have expanded their approach; some are perceived to have restricted it — each learning from the pandemic provisions. The state of Georgia enacted SB 202, a 98 page bill entitled the “Election Integrity Act of 2021.” One can agree or disagree as to which parts are good or bad; remember our goal today is not to advocate or reject. Here, no less, is a brief synopsis of the bill with context included — as speeches absent of context often promote the ill-informed nature of which we speak. As authored primarily by Declan Garvey, associate editor at The Dispatch, which strives to produce “factually grounded journalism”4:
“For starters, the bill actually expands voting access for most Georgians, mandating precincts hold at least 17 days of early voting—including two Saturdays, with Sundays optional—leading up to the election. Voting locations during this period must be open for at least eight hours, and can operate between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Several states (including Biden’s home state of Delaware, which will not implement it until 2022) do not currently allow any in-person early voting, and plenty, like New Jersey, offer far fewer than 17 days.
Despite Biden saying the bill implements absentee voting restrictions that ‘effectively deny’ the franchise to ‘countless’ voters, SB 202 leaves in place no-excuse absentee voting with a few tweaks. It tightens the window to apply for an absentee ballot to ‘just’ 67 days, and mandates applications—which can now be completed online—be received by election officials at least 11 days before an election to ensure a ballot can be mailed and returned by Election Day. The bill requires Georgia’s secretary of state to make a blank absentee ballot application available online, but prohibits government agencies from mailing one to voters unsolicited—and requires third-party groups doing so to include a variety of disclaimers.
Rather than signature matching—which is time-intensive for election officials—voters will verify their identity in absentee ballot applications by including the identification number on their driver’s license or voter identification card, which is free. If a Georgian has neither, he or she can, pursuant to Georgia Code Section 21-2-417, include a photocopy or digital picture of a ‘current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document’ that includes his or her name and address. When mailing back their ballots, voters must print their driver’s license number (or the last four digits of their social security number) on an inner envelope. (An August 2016 Gallup survey found photo ID requirements for voting were overwhelmingly popular: 80 percent of voters supported them, including 77 percent of nonwhite voters.) SB 202 also codifies ballot drop boxes into law; Georgia added them for the first time in 2020 as a pandemic measure, and the law now stipulates that there be one for every 100,000 registered voters or advance voting locations in a county, whichever is smaller.”
When the Georgia law was crafted, a few state lawmakers proposed ending all no-excuse absentee voting and early voting on Sundays, the latter seemingly targeting voter drives at black churches. Those provisions, however, were cut from the final bill. One restriction that was not cut prohibits outside groups from distributing money, gifts, food, or drinks within 25 feet of voters standing in line to vote. Polling places may still provide self-serving water receptacles.
That’s the primary significance of the law in my opinion. (Sorry for the length; I tried to be as brief as necessary.)
Note, nonetheless, that our two most recent Presidents have travelled to Georgia in successive Januarys to focus on the state election process. (Note: it was really tempting to find a creative way to quote the Charlie Daniels classic here). Both tried to convince us in sensationalized, (and in this encourager of respectful dialogue’s opinion) divisive rhetoric that something was/is deeply wrong.
Let me suggest that both — us, too — are entitled to their opinions, but not to their own facts. One can believe what’s happening in Georgia and other states is good, bad, necessary or unnecessary. But after (1) studying the law, (2) recognizing allowances were made solely for the pandemic, and (3) prioritizing equally both voter access and eligibility, one can logically question whether claims of illegality, inaccuracy, or worse are based on fact.
We can legitimately disagree, friends. But it’s also important to be accurately informed.
1 Britannica, Brian Duignan, www.britannica.com/topic/voting-rights, December 17, 2021)
2 Ben Leubsdorf, Election Day: Frequently Asked Questions, Congressional Research Service report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, January 6,2021, p. 2.
3 “Election Bill,” Congressional Globe, December 13, 1844, p. 29.
4 Coppins, McKay (January 31, 2020). “The Conservatives Trying to Ditch Fake News”. The Atlantic. Retrieved 12 April 2021.