Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Tribune News Service

COMMENTARY: Georgia’s voting law kicks off another round of partisan falsehoods

Georgia’s state legislature has passed a set of laws tightening the mechanics of the state’s voting process. Democrats are decrying the move as restrictive and racist, with some prominent national and state leaders, including President Joe Biden, comparing the law to the Jim Crow era. Republicans have challenged these assertions, arguing the bill’s provisions actually expand voting access while tightening security for the process with commonsense ID requirements. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The super-heated rhetoric coming from the left is obscuring legitimate criticisms of the bill, and Republicans’ claims that the bill will not dampen voter turnout also ring hollow. The country’s political leaders must stop grandstanding and actually work to reach reasonable compromises. Tightening the amount of time voters can request a mail-in ballot or requiring a state-issued ID to request an absentee ballot is not the same as requiring a poll tax or a literacy test. The law does limit the option of mail-in voting. For example, it makes it illegal for a mail-in ballot to be mailed to all eligible voters, instead requiring voters to request a ballot. It also limits the number of state-provided drop boxes and reduces the hours that voters can drop off ballots. (It’s worth noting that ballot drop boxes would not have been legal in the future without this law.) This will certainly make those who don’t customarily vote less likely to do so as compared to “turnout” if voters were to receive a ballot in the mail each election. The bill also makes the state election board chairperson a position elected by the state’s General Assembly instead of the Georgia secretary of state, centralizing election authority with the state legislature. This is clear overreach. The state legislature should not have this sort of oversight of local election procedures without compelling evidence of malfeasance. This is a power-grab born of petulance in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election and the subsequent Senate runoff elections. Perhaps the most controversial provision involves third parties being prevented from providing food or water to those in line at a polling place within 150 feet. The law’s opponents claim this could deter potential voters from waiting in line; proponents say that it doesn’t ban anyone from bringing their own refreshments and is intended only to block partisan groups from attempting to influence voters’ decisions. This is a tempest in a teapot. A friend or neighbor should be allowed to hand another friend a bottle of water. No one should be allowed to campaign in a voting center, using water as a prop or bribe. Democrats argue that any attempt to limit the availability of ballots or drop-off locations will have a chilling effect on voter turnout, with concentrated impact in poor and minority communities. They use the same argument for the new requirement that eliminates signature matching and requires a driver’s license or state ID number to request an absentee ballot. But a majority of Americans support voter ID, according to polling data from the Pew Research Center. This is not an overly burdensome restriction. There are legitimate arguments to be made against some of the bill’s provisions, and the appropriate avenue for review is the court system. Democrats are rushing to avail themselves of that system, as they have every right to do. Voting is a right. It is also a duty. Americans should exercise the franchise deliberately. The right should be guarded jealously. The duty should be taken seriously. Safeguarding the system ought not to be a partisan matter. The ultrapartisan rhetoric surrounding the Georgia law cheapens both the duty and the right.
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