Gabriel Sterling is the chief operation officer and chief financial officer in the office of the Georgia Secretary of State.
The reaction to Georgia’s new election law has me worried again. Though I have not received any threats yet, thankfully, that same foreboding is creeping up again as the president of the United States and others once again spread lies about what is going on in Georgia.
So I plead with the president once again: Someone is going to get hurt. Your words matter. The facts matter.
In the weeks and months after Nov. 3, my boss and I, along with local election workers, received death threats because we would not bend to pressure from one president to alter the outcome of the election. It is disappointing to see the new president engage in similarly dangerous hyperbole.
First, as The Post has correctly noted, the new legislation does not decrease early voting hours, though President Biden falsely claimed otherwise. In fact, early voting hours were expanded by adding an extra mandatory Saturday of early voting and continuing to allow Sunday voting. Early voting hours must be open from at least 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., a step up from the “normal business hours” required by previous law. Counties can extend those hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., as many have done in the past.
The president alleged last month that the bill “makes it a crime to provide water to voters while they wait in line.” But providing gifts of any value to voters to reward them for casting a ballot has been illegal in Georgia for years. A similar law exists in the president’s home state of Delaware, though it does not specify water or the infinite other things of value that could be used to persuade voters. Georgia’s legislation simply adds a buffer zone to close a loophole in the law that has been taken advantage of in the past. Notably, the bill allows groups to donate water for poll workers to give out.
The president has also said that adding a photo ID number requirement to absentee ballots “adds rigid restrictions . . . that will effectively deny the right to vote to countless voters.” Leaving aside that majorities of Black voters and Georgia Democrats support the added security measure, studies show that photo ID laws don’t decrease turnout.
In an ironic twist, Democrats who now decry adding photo ID numbers sued to get rid of the signature match process for absentee ballots last year, arguing it was subjective. Photo ID numbers are as objective as it comes. They are also widely available. Ninety-seven percent of Georgia voters have a driver’s license or a free state voter ID. Almost all have a Social Security number, the last four digits of which can now be used to cast an absentee ballot thanks to the new law.
Contrary to popular belief, the legislation writes ballot drop boxes into law for the first time in Georgia history. They were created by a temporary emergency rule in Georgia in response to the pandemic last year. Without legislation, drop boxes would be unlawful.
Another wild allegation is that changes to the State Election Board allow the legislature to overturn elections. That is false. There is nothing in the bill that allows that and nothing within the Georgia code that gives the election board, let alone the legislature, the power to overturn an election. The law allows the board to remove top elections officials of poorly performing counties after a lengthy review and appeal process. That can be used for elections officials who chronically fail to address long lines, lose absentee ballot applications or mismanage the process overall.
Don’t get me wrong, this section of the law removes the secretary of state, an accountable representative of the people of Georgia, from the election board and replaces him with an unaccountable appointee of the legislature or governor (depending on when the appointment is made). That is an ill-conceived part of the law. But it isn’t voter suppression.
The president has also repeated the lie that “this is Jim Crow in the 21st century.” Democrats have clearly realized this is a potential fundraising tactic regardless of the impact on voter confidence. It is no small wonder how a law, which election experts agree expands voting access to all Georgians, could be compared to the vast historical effort to disenfranchise and oppress Black Americans.
While this isn’t necessarily how Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, or I, would have written this law, it is not what President Biden claims. We saw just three months ago how election disinformation such as this can lead to violence. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
For the long-term health of our shared democratic republic, let’s turn down the rhetoric, both on the left and the right. Let’s tell the truth. Let’s make elections boring again.