Many GA voters impacted by voter suppression

Credit: Tami Tedesco/ Credit: Tami Tedesco/
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Last week’s midterm elections showed us what can happen when people bother to vote. Control of the House of Representatives will change hands in January, and many races that are normally written off as safe for one party ended up either very close or delivering upsets. The one-party rule of the federal government will come to end. These are things to celebrate, and they hopefully point to a general reawakening of American civic engagement. But amidst the good news of a potentially recovering democracy, the midterms showed us there’s still a lot of work to do to achieve a truly fair electoral system.

We knew well before the elections took place that there are plenty of people in this country who want to preserve the legacy of segregation by keeping people away from voting, and who find it defensible to use their positions of power to keep themselves and their acolytes in high position. The big story two weeks ago was in Georgia, where the candidate and election-overseer Brian Kemp was shown to have deleted hundreds of thousands of voters from the registration polls, while withholding tens of thousands more absentee ballot and voter registration applications. The majority of these applications belonged to African-American citizens. But that’s last week’s news, and Kemp wasn’t done suppressing the vote then.

Despite Kemp's claims that everything went smoothly in Georgia on Election Day, people reported hours-long lines to vote at some polling places, especially in the traditionally democratic Atlanta area. Voters in Gwinnett County, expected to be a highly competitive district, ended up waiting hours to vote, because the voting machines at Annistown Elementary School were delivered to the site without power cords. We can’t even walk outdoors without a tangle of power cords to keep our various devices working properly, and a state government can’t remember that electronic machines need a power source? Considering, again, that one of the candidates in this election was the person in charge of Georgia’s elections, it seems less like a genuine mistake and more of an accidental-but-on-purpose way of making sure that Kemp came out on top. Court orders, spurred on by lawsuits from groups like the Georgia National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), forced the state to keep some polling sites open later than normal to account for the earlier delays — but the damage could have already been done. We don’t know how many people were forced to leave rather than wait at polling sites, and we don’t know what other forms of suppression might be lurking under these more obvious displays.

If there is a silver lining to the cloud of suppression, it’s that we don’t know for sure that it will actually end up working in favor of those who tried to cheat. As of Saturday, the gubernatorial election in Georgia has still not been called by the Associated Press, as the state works its way through absentee and provisional ballots. The two candidates are separated by less than 2 percent, and there is a possibility that, although Kemp has the small lead, the two candidates will have to face each other again in a December runoff election. But the critical thing about this election is the numbers. The goal of suppression is to disadvantage your opponent, and to that end, Kemp failed. Even after purging people from the voter rolls and making it as difficult as possible for people to actually cast ballots, he ended up in a race that is, for him, uncomfortably close. There’s a lesson to be learned here: we can overcome the cheat-to-win policies of American conservatives if we actually show up in large numbers. We very nearly did it in Georgia. There are also recounts currently taking place, for two races in Florida, where ballots seemed to have gotten mixed up.

Republicans in this country are on notice. In terms of policy, they know that they have a relatively narrow (and shrinking) group of core supporters. And to be guaranteed victory in competitive races, they have stopped playing by the rules that they claim to hold so dear. The biggest takeaway from Tuesday’s elections should be this: it is unquestionably discouraging to hear these stories of voter suppression. After all, why even bother voting if there’s a chance that those in power will not only ignore but invalidate the message that voters have for them? If last week’s elections in states like Georgia (and Florida, and Arizona) show us anything, it’s that the days of the cheat-to-win tactic working are numbered. When people vote, we overcome the cheating strategies of people trying to ignore progress and keep the country in the past.