The mention of any news, positive or negative, about elections or voting in Georgia is like a siren song for people who have no idea what our voting laws are, or were, to crawl out of every corner of the internet to accuse Republicans of voter suppression. Stacey Abrams based her entire public persona around the theory that her election was stolen because her voters were prevented from voting.
But, of course, none of that is true. Ms. Abrams was unable to identify a single voter who had been prevented from voting by the laws that were in place at the time of her first run for Governor. And the history of election law in Georgia demonstrates that not only has Republican governance not suppressed votes, it has substantially expanded voting access on numerous occasions.
This is why it’s interesting that the latest attempt to smear Republicans as “vote suppressors” comes from none other than former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, the most recent Democrat to serve as Governor. His AJC editorial this week repeats many of the Abrams machine’s discredited claims about Republican-implemented laws suppressing votes.
What he fails to mention are the much stricter voting laws that were in place when the Democrats were in charge. During Barnes’ term in office from 1999-2003, and in fact for most of Georgia’s history prior to that, there were exactly two and only two ways to vote: in person, at one’s precinct, on Election Day, or by absentee ballot if a voter had a good reason for requesting one. There was no such thing as early voting, there were no drop boxes, and although Barnes claims “4 weeks is too short” for a runoff election, that was the exact length of a runoff when he was in charge, and I can find no indication he or his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly made any effort to change any of the above.
But Georgia’s voting laws have changed in the two decades since Republicans became the majority party. In 2005, the state removed the good cause requirement for absentee voting, allowing any voter to vote by mail if he or she chose. In 2011, expansive early voting laws were put in place, and voters now have several weeks and weekends prior to Election Day to vote early in person. Republicans added drop boxes for absentee ballots to Georgia law in 2021, after first implementing them on an emergency basis for COVID in 2020. As a result, Georgia now has more options to vote than almost any other state.
Thanks at least in part to how easy Georgia Republicans have made voting, turnout in Georgia elections has continued to climb, particularly among voters of color, as even Barnes admits. But, incoherently, some Democrats, including Abrams, claim that “turnout does not dispel voter suppression.” What other metric could possibly be better?
Barnes does raise a couple of valid criticisms, pointing to Cobb County’s recent failure to mail out some absentee ballots in a timely manner and Fulton County’s extensive history of long lines on Election Day. But he makes the common error of blaming the state government for failures of counties, which are solely responsible for their own elections operations. In fact, the 2021 election law made it possible for the state to intervene when county elections offices continually fail to fulfill their duties, and the Democrats claimed that was voter suppression too.
This is far from the first time Democrats have claimed voter suppression, and it’s unlikely to be the last. But Barnes was actually in a position to make changes to election laws, and he apparently didn’t see a problem with the much more limited voting options available during his term as Governor. Thankfully for his former constituents, the updates Republicans have made to voting laws in the past 20 years have created many more voting options and huge increases in turnout since those days.