Columnist Jay Bookman writes the excuse for storming the U.S. Capitol was to “Stop the Steal,” and the excuse for what GOP lawmakers are doing in the Georgia Legislature to restrict absentee voting is the same: “Stop the Steal.” Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Unlike the thugs who attacked the U.S. Capitol in frustration at losing an election, Georgia’s Republican legislators are not resorting to violence. However, if their methods differ, their motivations and their goals are all too familiar.
Instead of violence, our state legislators are using the mechanisms of our democracy to try to undermine that democracy, to distort and pervert it to their own political benefit. They have come to the conclusion that if their fellow Georgians are allowed to vote freely and fairly, Republicans will lose, and losing is not an outcome they can accept.
In their concerted attack on the right to vote, Georgia Republicans are even using the same justification as those who attacked the Capitol. They are claiming that absentee voting, drop boxes, automatic voter registration and other provisions of state election law – provisions originally adopted by Republicans, administered by Republicans – are being used by Democrats to commit voter fraud and thus must be dramatically restricted.
In short, the same lie that drove thousands to participate in a coup attempt in Washington is being used to achieve a similar end here in Atlanta, through a different means.
Their dilemma is obvious. After seeing Georgia turn blue, after seeing it elect two “radical socialists” as U.S. senators, Georgia Republicans feel the need to rig the system in future elections to discourage certain groups from voting. But like most of us, GOP legislators also need to think of themselves as patriots, as good, honest Americans defending the Constitution.
To reconcile those conflicting needs, an excuse is required. The excuse for storming the Capitol was to “Stop the Steal,” and the excuse for what they’re doing in the Georgia Legislature is the same: “Stop the Steal.”
This is nothing new. Alleged election fraud has been the excuse for voter suppression for generations. It was their excuse when conservatives used poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent black Georgians from voting; it remains their excuse for attempting to enact new voting restrictions today.
However, the incredibly close scrutiny paid to electoral processes and law during the chaotic 2020 campaign season has produced an important side benefit. At this moment in history, the stakes for Republicans wanting to prove election fraud cannot have been higher; this moment has also come at a time when the GOP controlled almost all of the mechanisms by which such fraud would be investigated.
Egged on by Donald Trump, Republicans have had immense motivation to turn over every rock, to investigate every lead, to find something, anything, that could plausibly be portrayed as voter fraud. They have also had all the resources and authority needed to do so. Under such circumstances, the prosecutor, attorney general, conservative lawyer or journalist who discovered such evidence would be hailed a national hero.
In short, we have witnessed what should have been the perfect storm for finding election fraud, and it has produced … nothing.
Bjay Pak, for example, was a well-respected former GOP state legislator appointed by Trump as U.S. attorney for north Georgia. Pak told the Trump White House that he could find no evidence of election fraud, and he was forced to resign. (Pak’s replacement as U.S. attorney also made clear that there was no evidence of election fraud.)
Pak’s boss up in Washington, former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, announced in December that the FBI and Department of Justice had investigated found no evidence of significant election fraud. Despite recounts, audits and investigations by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Republican state officials echo Barr’s finding, saying that they too have found no evidence of voter fraud. And of course, every lawsuit filed in 2020 by the Trump campaign, the Georgia Republican Party, the National Republican Committee and the clown car of nutty lawyers feeding off Trump’s money has come up empty as well.
Nonetheless, according to a poll released this week by the AJC, 76% of Georgia Republicans say there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 elections. Just 38% say they approve of the job performance of their fellow Republican, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who also tried to tell them that no voter fraud existed. They believe what they need to believe, damn the evidence.
Given that pervasive attitude and the GOP’s dominance of the Georgia General Assembly, some form of severe voting restriction is almost certain to pass. Those new laws will be challenged in court; many will likely be overturned. A newly Democratic Congress is also likely to attempt to pass nationwide legislation to try to protect voting rights from state-level assaults.
In the end, though, the voter must be the ultimate guarantor of his or her rights, and those of their fellow citizens. The excuses are gone; the veil has been ripped away, exposing the brute force of political will as the only explanation for what the Republican Legislature is attempting to do.
These bills to restrict and discourage voting show a lack of respect for democracy, and a lack of respect for Georgians. Remember that when you’re standing in long lines again next year, waiting to vote. Remember who supports democracy, and who attempts to undercut it.
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