If you’re wondering how a new voting law in Georgia, President Joe Biden talking about a return to the disgraceful days of the Jim Crow south and the All-Star game run by Major League Baseball all ended up in the same sentence, you’re not alone.
A torrent of news, facts, false statements and confusion have collided together in recent days as a reaction to Georgia’s new voting law which opponents and some of the national media have depicted as being an attempt to restrict voting by people of color.
The loudest protest so far came from the announcement by Major League Baseball that it was pulling its All-Star Game out of Atlanta this summer. But that protest move has created its own pushback because a closer inspection of the facts of the new voting law (and not just relying on the word of activist groups seeking to have no voter verification standards going forward, especially around absentee ballots) would seem to indicate the law includes many common voting standards that exist elsewhere, including in this state.
The temporary suspension of normal voting practices that occurred by necessity during the pandemic year of 2020 when widespread mail voting and absentee voting was introduced should not mean that going forward voter identification requirements should be abandoned.
Ironically, the same media that now accuses the Republican dominated Georgia legislature of crafting a voting law aimed at restricting voting was singing the praises of the two chief Republican elections officials following the presidential election after they declared a full and fair counting of the ballots gave the state as a win to then-candidate Biden.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensburger and elections Systems Manager Gabriel Sterling were given widespread favorable coverage when they stood up to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that Georgia’s vote tally was inaccurate and most notably in an infamous phone call when the former president was pressing them to “find votes.”
But in fact, the chaotic disputes following the election prompted many of the law’s reforms, including new voter identity requirements and a tighter time period for requesting an absentee ballot.
Contrary to the drumbeat that the new law reduces early voting, earlier reports have now been corrected, showing the new law adds weekend days to early voting and keeps polls open to 7 p.m. (Even Biden was recently fact checked as “wrong” by CNN by claiming the law would close polls at 5 p.m. to hurt working people.)
So I asked now retired former North Attleboro State Rep. Kevin Poirier, who served for 15 years on the North Attleboro Election Commission after serving a quarter of a century in the state legislature, to weigh in on the political turmoil.
“It’s disgusting to call it racism,” he says about strengthening voter ID requirements and the strategy by political opponents to frame the new law in such a harsh and divisive way.
He notes he had filed several bills in the Massachusetts legislature over the years to require voter ID at polling places because he believes it enhances the integrity of elections. (Massachusetts does not require proof of a photo ID during in-person voting at a polling place, but a person’s name must appear as an active voter on the voting database and when registering to vote for the first time, usually at a city or town hall, a government photo ID, usually a driver’s license must be shown. A state issued non-driver ID, a passport and various other forms of identification are also generally accepted.)
Another part of the Georgia law that is being mischaracterized has to do with the provision that now blocks outside individuals from interacting with those waiting in voting lines.
In last year’s election, there were instances of groups handing out bottles of water as voting lines were long due to social distancing. Now, voters are allowed to bring their own water and polling stations can provide self-serve water stations.
Biden has criticized the new restriction but Poirier says the president is off base.
“States don’t allow that today, we don’t allow that in this state,” Poirier notes of a law common in many states that restricts those holding signs or engaging in other political activity at polling places to keep a certain distance from voters standing in line. “You have to stay 150 feet away from the voting line,” notes Poirier and adds, “it’s not voter suppression to enforce these things.”
I would certainly agree with the former state rep and add that it’s disappointing if Biden has decided it’s in his political interest to play the race card, and confuse the facts over this law.