By Rich Lowry
President Joe Biden is so committed to bipartisan cooperation and fact-based governance that he’s launched an ignorant and incendiary attack on the new Georgia voting law.
Biden says the new law is “Jim Crow in the 21st century” and “an un-American law to deny people the right to vote.”
It’s now practically mandatory for Democrats to launch such unhinged broadsides. Elizabeth Warren, accusing Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp of having stolen his 2018 election victory over Democratic activist Stacey Abrams (a poisonous myth), tweeted, “The Republican who is sitting in Stacey Abrams’ chair just signed a despicable voter suppression bill into law to take Georgia back to Jim Crow.”
Anyone making this charge in good faith either doesn’t understand the hideousness of Jim Crow or the provisions of the Georgia law.
The old Jim Crow was billy clubs and fire hoses; the alleged new Jim Crow is asking people to write a driver’s license number on their absentee ballot envelopes.
The old Jim Crow was poll taxes; the new Jim Crow is expanding weekend voting. The old Jim Crow was disenfranchising voters en masse based on their race; the new Jim Crow is limiting ballot drop boxes to places they can’t be tampered with.
It’s hard to believe that one real voter is going to be kept from voting by the new rules. To better ensure the security, the law requires that voters provide a driver’s license or state ID number to apply for a ballot and one of those numbers (or the last four digits of a Social Security number) when returning the ballot.
The law narrows the window for requesting absentee ballots, although still allows plenty of time. A voter can request a ballot as early as 11 weeks prior to an election or as late as 11 days prior (any later risks the completed ballot not getting delivered in time).
Ballot drop boxes were a pandemic-era innovation in Georgia. The law keeps them, while limiting their location to early voting sites. After getting blowback over proposed limits on weekend early voting when Black churches run their “Souls to the Polls” events, Georgia lawmakers expanded the potential for weekend voting.
The law gives the State Election Board more authority to take over local election operations, but there’s no doubt that election officials in Fulton County, where metro Atlanta is located and long lines at the polls are common, have been incompetent.
Perhaps most controversially, it bans people from distributing food or drink to voters standing in line, an effort to keep partisans from trying to sway voters near polling places. But poll workers can provide food and drink for general use.
The deeper point is that in the contemporary United States, with such wide and ready access to the ballot, changes around the edges don’t disenfranchise people.
Georgia considered limiting no-excuse absentee voting to voters 65 and over. Even this wouldn’t have dissuaded anyone from voting. A study published by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research found that turnout increased in 2020 just as much in states without no-excuse absentee voting as in states with it.
Strict voter ID laws have long been denounced as voter suppression. It’s not true. According to a 2019 working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, “strict ID laws have no significant negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any subgroup.”
And Democrats issued dire warnings about the effects of the Supreme Court in 2013 ending so-called preclearance that required federal approval of changes in the rules in certain jurisdictions.
This, too, was wrong. A paper by a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon concludes, “The removal of preclearance requirements did not significantly reduce the relative turnout of eligible Black voters.”
None of the facts, though, can possibly overcome the attachment that Biden and other Democrats have to their emotionally resonant and politically powerful Jim Crow smear.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.(c) 2021 by King Features Synd., Inc.