SB 202: The Impact and Background of the Georgia voter suppression bill (Part 1)

There’s a lot of debate going on around the Georgian SB 202 bill, which among other things makes it illegal to offer people waiting in line to vote water.

Rather than sticking to only excerpts from the bill, a read through the bill may be more useful to define intent and note the actual changes.

I will be using this link:
https://www.legis.ga.gov/api/legislation/document/20212022/201121

I won’t copy over all text, but where a point is made I will cite the line number and the critique or review of what it does.

With no further ado:

Background

From line 62 on to line ##, SB 202 tries to give reasoning for its existence. You’ll immediately see how hard it works to try to paint this as a bipartisan struggle, despite it being overwhelmingly not one.

“Following the 2018 and 2020 elections, there was a significant lack of confidence in Georgia election systems, with many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter suppression and many electors concerned about allegations of rampant voter fraud”

This text from line 69 attempts to conflate the real and documented case of GOP voter fraud and disenfranchisement of 2018 with the completely fabricated “big lie” accusation from Trump and his cult that the election was rigged and voters cast fraudulent ballots, despite there being zero evidence of such a thing occurring.

“Many Georgia election processes were challenged in court, including the subjective signature-matching requirements, by Georgians on all sides of the political spectrum before and after the 2020 general election” (Line 72)

This again attempts to paint the Trump cult’s multiple attempts to overturn the election as a bipartisan issue. It is not one.

“The stress of the 2020 elections, with a dramatic increase in absentee-by-mail ballots and pandemic restrictions, demonstrated where there were opportunities to update existing processes to reduce the burden on election officials and boost voter confidence
(Line 75)

This may be the only truthful part of this background, though I would argue that the proven criminal behavior of the GOP in 2018 would have been a much better demonstration.

“The changes made in this legislation in 2021 are designed to address the lack of elector confidence in the election system on all sides of the political spectrum” (Line 78)

No, it really isn’t. It’s meant to address the lies about the 2020 election and change the law to disenfranchise potential Democrat voters.

The broad discretion allowed to local officials for advance voting dates and hours led to significant variations across the state in total number of hours of advance voting, depending on the county. More than 100 counties have never offered voting on Sunday and many counties offered only a single day of weekend voting. Requiring two Saturday voting days and two optional Sunday voting days will dramatically increase the total voting hours for voters across the State of Georgia, and all electors in Georgia will have access to multiple opportunities to vote in person on the weekend for the first time.” (Line 83)

This sounds good, except it’s not true. Mathematically, more voters did indeed have several weekends where they could vote than they will after this is restricted to 2 Saturdays and optional Sundays, which is up to the discretion of the county boards, mostly run by Republicans. The total they claim to make is based entirely on a guarantee that they will be allowed to vote at those times, something that wasn’t really in question and practically something that reduces their total times. This kind of rhetoric is called “spinning.”

Some counties in 2020 received significant infusions of grant funding for election operations, while other counties received no such funds. Promoting uniformity in the distribution of funds to election operations will boost voter confidence and ensure that there is no political advantage conferred by preferring certain counties over others in the distribution of funds;” (Line 90)”

The Georgian Senate seems to need remedial math courses in general, since they cannot seem to understand that where you have more people in a county, you need more resources to facilitate them being able to vote.

“Elections in Georgia are administered by counties, but that can lead to problems for voters in counties with dysfunctional election systems. Counties with long-term problems of lines, problems with processing of absentee ballots, and other challenges in administration need accountability, but state officials are limited in what they are able to do to address those problems. Ensuring there is a mechanism to address local election problems will promote voter confidence and meet the goal of uniformity” (Line 95)

This entire line is meant to build up support for giving themselves the power to overturn county results. This is a power grab under the guise of solving a real problem.

Line 101 to 111 are all about some problems alleged regarding absentee ballot applications and ballots themselves; none of it provides a figure to suggest how often tis was a problem or a single concrete example of any issue being reported.

“Opportunities for delivering absentee ballots to a drop box were first created by the State Election Board as a pandemic response. The drop boxes created by rule no longer existed in Georgia law when the emergency rules that created them expired. The General Assembly considered a variety of options and constructed a system that allows the use of drop boxes, while also ensuring the security of the system and providing options in emergency situations” (Line 112)

Another line which sounds like it’s addressing a problem, which it does, to it’s credit, however it does so by setting up for restrictive box placements that do not make it easier to vote.

“The lengthy nine-week runoffs in 2020 were exhausting for candidates, donors, and electors. By adding ranked choice voting for military and overseas voters, the run-off period can be shortened to a more manageable period for all involved, easing the burden on election officials and on electors;” (Line 118)

Strangely enough, this bill includes an actual improvement to voting, Ranked Choice Voting. Unfortunately, it only does so for military and people voting overseas, which sets up a two tier voting system and technically disenfranchises military and overseas folks from voting in a run off. They should just implement RCV for all, or not at all. Doing it halfway means both sides lose out on many of the benefits.

Counting absentee ballots in 2020 took an incredibly long time in some counties. Creating processes for early processing and scanning of absentee ballots will promote elector confidence by ensuring that results are reported quickly;” (Line 122)

This is a solution looking for a problem. There is no need to have results immediately; the Congress certifies the vote in December precisely to give states time to count and certify their votes. That deadline has never been approached, let alone breached.

“The sanctity of the precinct was also brought into sharp focus in 2020, with many groups approaching electors while they waited in line. Protecting electors from improper interference, political pressure, or intimidation while waiting in line to vote is of paramount importance to protecting the election system and ensuring elector confidence;” (Line 125)

Were this actually used to protect people from undue influence, this would be a compelling argument. Instead they use it to justify not allowing people waiting in extremely long lines from getting water.

Line 129-137 talk about provisional ballots, and allege undue burden on the election officials. No example of overburdened officials is given. Besides, the test of legal voting policies is that it does not place an undue burden on the VOTER; this law has it precisely backwards by placing more burden on a voter to reduce it on the official.

Impact

The first alteration, In Section 3, is to the locus of power over election results. They add in, in line 165, a provision giving themselves the right as election superintendent to overrule and county or local results:

“(E) In the case of the State Election Board exercising its powers under subsection (f) of Code Section 21-2-33.1, the individual appointed by the State Election Board to exercise the power of election superintendent.”

It should be noted that the party is power is the party who staffs the State Election Board.

The next change, Section 4 from line 170 – 177, seems to grant the Attorney General the power to investigate allegations of voter fraud. It does not; the AG already has this power. What it instead does is give the AG the power to accept anonymous tips, instead of verified and identified allegations, and the right to pursue those within a few days. Given how the Trump cult was unable to produce any actual evidence of voter fraud but alleged plenty of anonymous tips, this would give the AG the ability to pursue a case without a shred of evidence.

Line 184 in Section 5 removes the Secretary of State, elected by the people, from the State Election Board and replaces it with someone the General Assembly (aka, the ruling political power) chooses. In essence, this takes the power from the people and puts it in the hands of the party in power. Furthermore, it goes on to describe how this person is selected by simple majority, not a 2/3rds vote (Line 197), that they will be the chairperson of the SEB (Line 200), and that the person must not have been a candidate for office, participated in a campaign or donated to a campaign for the last two years (which the latter is easily bypassed through PACs). Line 213 gives the Governor recess appointee power.

Line 251 removes the right to a vote from the Secretary of State in the SEB, and requires there to be three voting members present to constitute a quorum.

(f) After following the procedures set forth in Code Section 21-2-33.2, the State Election Board may suspend county or municipal superintendents and appoint an individual to serve as the temporary superintendent in a jurisdiction. Such individual shall exercise all the powers and duties of a superintendent as provided by law, including the authority to make all personnel decisions related to any employees of the jurisdiction who assist with carrying out the duties of the superintendent, including, but not limited to, the director of elections, the election supervisor, and all poll officers” (Line 269)

This Section 6 change gives the SEB the right to overturn and replace any election official they wish for any reason. It is the epitome of a state power grab.

Section 7 (under Line 282) is a doozy; it begins with requiring any request for extra funding to go through the SEB, and then requires a preliminary investigation before a petition is even heard, which can take over 90 days to complete (which will often be far after the emergency funds are needed).
But then it pivots in Line 302 to if any petition is made, the SEB may investigate and replace and prosecute any election officials they deem negligent. There is no specific criteria for this except the judgement of the SEB. The rest of the section gives the SEB the right to remove and replace anyone they wish under this policy.

Section 8 moves emergency powers to declare emergency rules from all other actors to the SEB.

Section 9, from Line 429 on, bars anyone except the direct, state or federal government from funding or assisting election efforts. This would immediately stop most of the actions and donations from all GOTV groups from helping people vote. It also requires all funding to be spread equally throughout the state, which as noted before, is not smart.

Changes to Section 11 (Line 454) involve allowing poll officers from out of county.

Changes to Section 12 allow the State Congress to review local election officials and replace them. It also tacks on that the SEB can change the rules for these investigations at any time.

Changes to Section 13 allow a deceased candidate to remain on the ballot and treats their election as a failure to fill the office (meaning it goes to Governor to fill in).

Changes to Section 14 is the same as changes to Section 9.

Changes to Section 15 include allowing any elector to limitlessly challenge anyone’s voter registration and get a trial in ten days. This means that one person can force every single elector to defend their right to vote in court, where their presence can be required. Any board who does not allow this will be sanctioned by the SEB.

Section 16 changes do the same thing for Absentee ballots.

Section 17 is interestingly worded:

Once becoming a member of the nongovernmental entity described in subsection (d) of Code Section 21-2-225, the Secretary of State shall obtain regular information from such entity regarding electors who may have moved to another state, died, or otherwise become ineligible to vote in Georgia. The Secretary of State shall use such information to conduct list maintenance on the list of eligible electors.” (Line 698)

In essence this means that the SEB can tell the SoS any allegation of no longer being a valid voter, and the SoS must use this to remove people from the list. The allegation does not have to be supported by evidence.

First Summary

So far the changes are mainly in creating a partisan board that has multiple powers, including to remove anyone they wish from the voter rolls, from the election official positions, and the power to sanction and fine people they deem to be doing their job insufficiently. The changes also remove the SoS from having any power. It allows endless anonymous accusations to serve as the basis for challenging the validity of the vote, removing the burden of proof. And it treats a request for emergency funding as an inquiry into the competence of any officials in that area.

We’re about 1/3rd of the way through, and already you can see the intent of this bill. The party in power can create a near-universally powerful board which can overturn the will of the people and use spurious allegations to remove people from the voter rolls. It puts a large burden on those accused and makes the amount of times they can be harassed limitless. And it prevents the person elected by the people to adjudicate elections from any sort of real power to do so.

What do you think? Is my analysis correct? Do you have a different view on it? Defend it below, and I’ll see you in the next part.

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