Tammy Joyner is an Atlanta-based journalist and the democracy reporter for Atlanta Civic Circle, a nonprofit online publication.
It was exhilarating, especially for Black voters like me, who felt as if our votes finally made a difference.
Now, though, comes the backlash. As part of an anti-voting push across the country, Republican lawmakers in Georgia have quickly introduced dozens of bills they claim will prevent voter fraud. Never mind, of course, that the Georgia secretary of state’s office investigated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election and found none.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t worried about these voting “reform” bills. Yet I’m not discouraged, because I know the new Georgia won’t accept a voting rollback without a fight.
Republicans here tell us the bills are needed to restore people’s confidence in elections. But how do you restore faith in a system with restrictions that would, under one bill, prohibit poll workers from taking breaks until all absentee votes are counted?
It’s clear some lawmakers want a return to the spirit of a past where my great-grandfather had to pay poll taxes and other Blacks had to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar or recite the preamble to the Constitution to cast their ballots. It’s “Jim Crow with a suit and tie,” the nonprofit Common Cause said.
H.B. 531, which passed the state House on Monday and could see action in the Senate on Friday, is a big bill that’s determined to make everything about voting in Georgia small: fewer precincts, fewer ballot drop boxes, fewer hours and weekends to vote, and less time to request and get absentee ballots before an election. The bill would even make it a crime to give bottles of water or bags of chips to voters waiting in line.
Meanwhile, the state Senate’s omnibus bill, S.B. 241, would go even further — ending motor-voter registration and allowing absentee voting only for those older than 65, out of town on Election Day or disabled.
The underhandedness of the way these bills are winding through the system is astounding. Some Senate hearings on bills inexplicably weren’t live-streamed, meaning citizens, homebound by the pandemic, couldn’t watch the process. On the House side, Republicans introduced H.B. 531 only hours before it was to be heard in a subcommittee, giving Democrats and others little time to digest it.
Don’t Republicans realize — or care — that suppressing the votes of people of color and the young, who tend to vote Democratic, also puts restraints on their own base voters as well?
For those fearing for Georgia’s dawning blue future, though — don’t. Instead, remember the new brand of Georgians. Social media is jammed with them. Young people and grass-roots groups are out protesting at the state Capitol. Add to that legions of energized folks such as Gloria Jenkins of East Point, Ga. She and other senior citizens call the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker every weekday between 10 a.m. and noon to register their disdain.
“We’re not going back,” said Jenkins, who chairs the Georgia Democratic Party’s senior caucus and decades ago took part in sit-ins at lunch counters in Greensboro, N.C.
Other lawmakers are being bombarded with phone calls and emails, too. One veteran lawmaker said that the voting measures are the most hell she has dealt with in her 28 years in the legislature. Democrats are holding town hall meetings via Zoom to explain what’s going on and what people can do. Stacey Abrams and her group Fair Fight Action have launched a million-dollar ad campaign alerting Georgians to the dangers these voting bills pose.
Defeating these bills might be a long shot in a state with a Republican governor and lieutenant governor and a GOP-led legislature. Georgia’s voting-rights battle may well end up in the courts.
But whatever happens, Georgians — the same ones who helped send two Democratic senators to Congress in January — are in this fight for the long haul. It’s not just about voting. There’s a deeper message about who has the right to shape the future of our state. Closing the door on some may not be as overt as billy clubs and fire hoses, but it’s there. And so, too, is the fight — whether it’s on the phone at home, in the streets or in the courts.
Or, as Gloria Jenkins put it, Georgians aren’t going back.