Republican legislators throughout the country are practically churning out bills that although seemingly unrelated, would work together to suppress voting rights and criminalize activism. Following high voter turnout in communities of color and Black Lives Matter protests throughout the nation last summer, Republican legislators and prosecutors will have attacked the rights of people of color in state legislatures, courtrooms, and as early as next month, in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams, also founder of the equity and voting rights organization Fair Fight Action, testified before a congressional committee on Thursday to call for federal legislation to protect communities of color being targeted. On the same day, Georgia activists marched in front of the state Capitol to advocate for those communities.
“The January 6th insurrection culminated from a nearly year-long misinformation campaign warning of a rigged election and a 20-year assault on voting rights centered around racist and often baseless allegations of voter fraud,” Abrams told lawmakers.
More than 253 bills in more than 40 states are now aimed at restricting voting access, Abrams said, citing research from the Brennan Center for Justice. Many supporters of the bills are alleging efforts to protect voting integrity while top voting officials have assured voters that no such cases of widespread voter fraud existed in the recent presidential election. "A lie cloaked in the seductive appeal of election integrity has weakened access to democracy for millions by promoting voter suppression," Abrams told lawmakers.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on March 2 in a case taking up a federal challenge to two Arizona policies deemed racially discriminatory. “The first is an ‘out-of-precinct’ rule that any vote cast in the wrong polling place must be tossed out, even if it is for president, governor, or some other race in which the voter could have cast a ballot anywhere in the state,” the Brennan Center explained. The other would ban anyone other than a voter’s immediate family or caregivers from turning in a mail-in ballot for that voter. The case is between Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the Democratic National Committee.
The suit, however, has implications far beyond the state, and is, according to the policy center, “a crucial test for the Voting Rights Act’s ability to protect people of color.” In the case, the Republican Party and "a number of others that filed friend-of-the-court briefs" asked the Supreme Court to severely limit a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits states from imposing prerequisites to voting in ways that would deny the right to vote “on account of race or color." Now, why would a legislator in this country want to strip away protections for people of color? In a word: racism. In a sentence: They are racists.
It should come as no surprise that the same political party working to attack the voting rights of people of color is also pursuing legislation across the country that would—if prior prosecutorial disparities set the precedent—unfairly target Black and brown protesters. Since November 2006, 26 states have actually enacted laws or executive orders peeling back the rights of protesters, according to a tracker from the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law. Many of those states also have legislative aims to restrict voting rights. Republican legislators in Arizona, Georgia, and Oklahoma are trying to ban no-excuse absentee voting and also criminalize protesting without a permit, elevating the misdemeanor offense of unpermitted protest action blocking traffic to a felony.
Georgia and Oklahoma lawmakers are also pursuing legislation to define the offenses using gang-related racketeering laws, punishable by at least five years in Georgia and at least 10 years in prison in Oklahoma. And yet another legislative aim in Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington would give drivers who hit protesters immunity. In Oklahoma, the bill passed a Senate committee in an 8-1 vote, and there are two similar bills in the House, according to CBS-affiliated WMBD-TV.
Oklahoma state Rep. Emily Virgin told the news station she wishes Republicans would focus on the actual aim of protests sparked throughout the nation when a white Minneapolis cop kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him. That focus would be rooting out systematic racism and police brutality. “It seems that some of my colleagues took the wrong lesson from the demonstrations we saw this summer,” Virgin told WMBD.
Georgia Republicans similarly got the message wrong. Their proposed legislative swing at protesters would also create a new offense of “defacing, defiling, or abusing contemptuously” state property during “unlawful assembly.” “As such, a protester who chalked a sidewalk near a monument during an assembly that was deemed to be ‘unlawful’ could face up to 15 years in jail,” according to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.
Protesters fought the measure and more than 50 more restrictive voting-related bills Republicans are trying to push through the Georgia General Assembly.
Aklima Khondoker, the Georgia state director for the anti-voter discrimination organization All Voting is Local, told WABE radio all the bills would accomplish is voter suppression and depressed turnouts. “The most concerning part is that these bills appear to all be politically motivated, as opposed to being motivated by making the process of voting easier for voters and more beneficial for election workers,” Khondoker said.
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