Opinion writer

Atlanta during the civil rights movement liked to call itself the city “too busy to hate,” although it wasn’t too busy to enforce Jim Crow. Since then, Georgia — and Atlanta, specifically — has attempted to fashion the state as the leader of the New South — more cosmopolitan, inclusive and prosperous than past generations would ever have imagined. Now, however, Georgia risks becoming a symbol of the retreat from racial equality and the descent into thuggishness that characterize the Trump years.

A small but telling incident involving Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) on Saturday made headlines. The Post reports:

On Saturday, a student member of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at Georgia Tech approached Perdue, who was visiting the Atlanta campus to campaign for Brian Kemp.

Kemp, a Republican and Georgia’s secretary of state, is locked in a tight gubernatorial race with Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state lawmaker. The race attracted additional scrutiny this week after the Associated Press reported that more than 53,000 voter registration applications were in limbo with Kemp’s office; the overwhelming majority of those applications are from African American and other minority voters, according to an AP analysis.

The student began to question Perdue about the “exact match” system (putting on hold any voter application with even a minor clerical error). Perdue then briefly snatched the student’s phone, but insisted later it was all a “misunderstanding.”

The student remained calm and polite, in contrast to the senator. Viewers can decide whether he was “misunderstanding” or bullying the student.

The bigger issue here for Georgia and the GOP is not whether Perdue behaved like a jerk but whether Kemp is engaged in racist voter repression.

Abrams went on the Sunday talk shows to condemn what she says is the thinly veiled effort to deny African Americans the right to vote. Abrams told Chuck Todd on NBC News’s “Meet the Press”: “I was part of a coalition that sued him in 2016 to force him to stop using this process. And a federal judge agreed with us, said that he had unlawfully canceled more than 33,000 registrations. And they forced him to restore those registrations. In response, the Republicans passed a law in the 2017 legislative session to allow him to do it again.” She argued that “the challenge is twofold. One is that we know this is a flawed system that has a disproportionate effect on people of color. But it also has the ability to erode trust in our system. I know that Secretary Kemp is well aware of this. And it’s part of a pattern of behavior where he tries to tilt the playing field in his favor or in the favor of his party.”

On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Abrams had this exchange:

ABRAMS: The problem is twofold.

One is that you have 53,000 who — people who are being forced to go through unnecessary hurdles to prove their bona fides.

But the second is that you have 159 counties, thousands of volunteer and paid poll workers who are going to be asked to substantially verify that these I.D.s are sufficient. And the challenges there is, this is a subjective standard.

It would be much easier if he actually did his job and processed people in a proper fashion, and we did not have this flawed exact match system, that he knew was flawed because we sued him in 2016, and a federal judge forced him to restore 33,000 illegally canceled registrations.

This is simply a redux of a failed system that is designed to both scare people out of voting and make it harder for those who are willing to push through, make it harder for them to vote.

JAKE TAPPER: But, Leader Abrams, he argues that he’s doing his job. The exact match the law was passed by the state legislature last April. He’s the sitting secretary of state.

He says, why should I step down just to — because I’m following the existing law on the books?

ABRAMS: I think the call for his resignation is larger than simply this last and latest example of incompetence.

This is a larger pattern of behavior. This is someone who sued a woman for helping her blind mother cast a ballot, who closed more than 200 polling places across the state, but who also fails to take responsibility for his actions.

When something goes well, he takes credit, but, when there’s a problem, he blames everyone else. Voting should not be a question of trust on the part of voters, whether they can trust the system.

And, right now, he is eroding the public trust in the system because 53,000 people have been told, you may be able to vote, you may not, it’s up to you to prove it. . . . I would say that we have known since 2016 that the exact match system has a disproportionate effect on people of color and on women.

He was sued for this exact problem. He was forced to restore 33,000 illegally canceled registrations. And he turned around and got the state legislature to pass a law to allow him to make the same mistake again.

When you know that what you’re doing is going to have a disproportionate effect on people of color and on women, and you do it anyway, that erodes the public trust in the system. And that’s problematic.

TAPPER: Can you explain to voters who aren’t familiar with this why you think the exact match system is disproportionately targeting women and people of color?

It — just for people who don’t know, it requires that there not be any discrepancy between somebody’s I.D. and somebody’s name and how they appear in the voter rolls.

ABRAMS: Exactly.

So, the professor who was covered by the AP story, this is a college professor who has a hyphen in her last name. Because the hyphen was left out either by someone typing in the information at the Department of Motor Vehicles or in the registrar’s office, she was removed from the rolls, despite being someone who actively votes.

That type of minor error can turn into a major problem. Because she’s a college professor, she knows the systems to go through to figure out the solution.

But what about those low-propensity voters in those tiny communities who are finally stepping up and saying, this is my turn to cast my ballot, only to find that they are disenfranchised? They don’t know that they can go to the polls. They get a confusing letter saying there’s something wrong with their registration. And more than likely they will sit out this election.

The miasma of fear that is created through voter suppression is as much about terrifying people about trying to vote as it is about actually blocking their ability to do so.

If this sounds to you like conduct that the white establishment engaged in during Jim Crow, you’re not alone. This is the Georgia of the past, not the model of progress, prosperity and diversity it has struggled for decades to create. The state stands on the precipice of a political catastrophe: an election that would not be viewed as legitimate due to voter suppression aimed to keep down the African American vote. Protests, lawsuits, boycotts and irreparable damage to the state’s reputation will ensue if Kemp wins thanks to these tactics.

The question for Georgians is simple: Do they want to adopt the backward-looking Trumpian nostalgia based on white grievance (in which whites see themselves as victims because they no longer dominate economically and politically as they did decades ago), or do they want to be a prosperous, 21st-century state? Three weeks from tomorrow, we will find out whether voters are too busy to hate or too foolish to seek a return to the bad old days of pre-civil rights Georgia.