Mar 17, 2022 - Politics

Lawmakers and activists share Hard Truths about voting rights

A man speaks to a group of people sitting around a large square table with a white tablecloth.
Thomas Hicks, the chair of the Election Assistance Commission, talks about death threats to election officials as Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project (left) looks on. Photo: Bonnie J. Heath

Despite registering a historic number of BIPOC voters in the past three elections, such Georgia-based voting groups as the New Georgia Project (NGP), Black Voters Matter Fund and GALEO must continue meeting less-represented voters where they are. NGP, for example, is rolling out a video game this week at SXSW in Austin.

  • But they can only do so much when stacked up to new election laws that make it harder for people to cast ballots, activists said Wednesday.

Driving the news: Around 20 lawmakers, activists and academics spoke at Axios’ inaugural Hard Truths breakfast discussion in Midtown. It was centered on race and elections.

  • Axios' Kristal Dixon and Charles Ellison of WURD Radio moderated the discussion.

Catch up fast: This past year, 19 legislatures across the country, including Georgia's, passed laws that limit access to voting, said Nsé Ufot of the New Georgia Project. Measures include regulating the use of ballot drop boxes and absentee voting.

  • The avalanche of new elections legislation — including Georgia’s, which gives state lawmakers a voice in choosing an elections board chair — makes it harder for election officials to do their jobs, said Sean Young, the legal director for the ACLU of Georgia.
  • “One in five election officials are saying they won’t be around for 2024,” said Thomas Hicks, the chair of the Election Assistance Commission. “One in two say they are concerned about their fellow election officials’ safety.”

No compromise: Georgia’s Republican state representatives Tuesday followed Florida’s lead and passed a measure that gives the Georgia Bureau of Investigation the original authority to probe alleged election violations and allows the public the opportunity to inspect ballots.

  • Last year, Georgia Republicans passed an omnibus voting package that among much else, restricted absentee ballot dropboxes and their locations, shortened absentee mailing windows and banned mobile voting vehicles used by Fulton County.

The state’s Republicans, who retain a majority at the Capitol, have been clear that they’re not willing to compromise on this issue, said representatives Teri Anulewicz of Smyrna and Sandra Scott of Macon, both Democrats.

  • “I’ve had Republican colleagues and activists say to me with a straight face, ‘It’s OK to have to work a little bit to vote,’” Anulewicz said. “No. The right to vote is not for the most motivated voters. It is for all eligible voters. We should be doing everything to make it easier.”

The big picture: The laws negatively affect BIPOC voters the most, the activists say, and are essentially continuation of racist voting laws that have put up hurdles for Black voters to overcome going back decades.

  • Georgia Republicans sponsoring the laws have strongly rejected that characterization and argue the laws are about ensuring election integrity and accuracy.
  • After three recounts of Georgia’s ballots and multiple investigations into the 2020 election, Georgia election officials and the U.S. Attorney General found no evidence of widespread fraud.

The bottom line: All eyes will be on turnout statistics during the 2022 election, the first major election since the new law took effect.

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