Dialing Georgia

Locking or Unlocking Elections?
A Working Draft

Posted as top message for March 14

In light of our recent interest in the registration and criminalization of Texas voters, news from Georgia comes timely.

On Friday, the Democratic Caucus of the Georgia Senate staged a symbolic walkout after the passage of SB 84, a bill that restricts forms of ID that can be used to register and vote.

A text of the bill posted online strikes through twelve forms of ID previously allowable: picture IDs for employees; for students; gun license; pilot’s license; birth certificate; social security card; naturalization document; court papers approving adoption, name change, or sex change; utility bill; bank statement; government check; or other government document.

Surviving the purge are five forms of ID: state driver’s license; government ID; passport; government employee ID; or military ID.

From the point of view of the Texas Civil Rights Review, the law seems to contribute to a Repbulican-led pattern of treating would-be voters more like suspects than citizens.

So we checked with the office of the bill’s sponsor, Georgia State Senator Cecil Staton (R-Macon) to find out what support might be cited for the Senator’s stated concern that the bill is needed so that, “we don’t end up with all the lawsuits or all the voter irregularities we’ve heard about.” An aide for the Senator explained that Staton had given no supporting evidence in his address on the floor, owing to the short time allotted.

The Senator’s aide cited for us one example we might pass along to our readers: more than 2,000 “questionable ballots cast” in Fulton County during last November’s election. But the aide’s suggested contact at the Fulton County Board of Registration and Elections (FCBORE) was not able to substantiate the claim.

Instead, FCBORE member Frank Strickland told us by telephone that “there were very few reports of irregularity” on election day in Fulton County. “The system is not perfect, but we didn’t have a great deal of difficulty at that stage.”

Strickland suggested that the aide for Sen. Staton might have intended to cite 2,400 voter registrations that were handed over to the FCBORE by the Georgia Secretary of State, because they were “apparently fraudulent.” The FCBORE turned the evidence over to the local District Attorney and Federal Attorney, but Strickland is not aware of any action taken on the evidence so far.

At this point, we note troubling parallels between Texas and Georgia, beginning with the fact that we are never very far from the lead Republican lawyer in both redistricting cases. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Strickland served as “the Georgia Republican Party’s lead attorney in the legislative redistricting case” for that state, much in the way that Andy Taylor served as the Texas Republican Party’s lead attorney in the Congressional redistricting case here.

But the parallels do not end in the way that both attorneys tend to their party’s redistricting needs. The two advocates also use vocabularies that cast suspicion on Democratic voters despite the evidence. When Taylor led a Republican challenge to unseat elected Houston Democrat Hubert Vo, he based his case on public allegations of widespread illegal voting by Democrats. He made the charges, despite the fact that the only pattern of possible fraud supported by evidence during the legislative hearing was a collection of forged voter registrations that attempted to deported some voters out of the contested district.

So in Georgia and Texas alike, we have public claims of voter fraud that turn out not to involve voters at all. Yet in both states, the claims are used to publicly justify campaigns of suspicion and criminalization against voters.

We give Strickland credit for being accessible and patient in our telephone interview. He seems to be a man of steadfast convictions. And he made it clear that he could not speak for the FCBORE.

When Strickland explained that the evidence of alleged fraud in Fulton County had appeared on the “front end” of the system while voting is more on the “back end,” I recognized a vocabulary that we have used in Texas to describe our concerns with statewide voter registration. Georgia has statewide registration, which would explain why the Secretary of State forwarded questionable registration forms to Fulton County rather than the other way around.

Strickland seems excitable on the question of photo IDs for voters. He explains that if photo IDs are required to rent movies or to cash welfare checks, they should be required to vote.

In response to that argument, I asked Strickland if voting wasn’t more of a right than renting movies or cashing checks. Isn’t voting a right that citizens should expect to have available to them without any barriers?

”I agree with that,” said Strickland, “except identify yourself. Just like we need to be safe in our homes we need to be somewhat assured about the integrity of the voting process in every respect. I am not on the election board to deny the right to vote, everyone has that right if they are the proper age and registered.”

Srickland thinks the new ID requirements will be no problem for a “vast majority.” He thinks cries that voters will be unable to produce the IDs are overstated. There are four million registered voters in Georgia, compared to six million drivers licenses and 600,000 other state- issued IDs. He admits that the facts do not directly address an answer to the central question: will some voters have added difficulty producing ID from the short list? But Strickland does not think that narrowing the form of ID constitutes a civil rights violation.

Strickland’s language of voter integrity uses the analogy of home security, and the analogy seems to draw upon certain imagination of threat. Protecting an election is like protecting your home, and there are people out there waiting to break in. Well, I do keep my doors locked. But I’m not sure how the analogy of my locked doors should fit the case of elections. Shouldn’t elections be unlocked?

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