Voting rights advocates warn of new threats to access to the polls in Georgia



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Voting rights advocates had warned that controversial election laws passed by Georgia lawmakers in 2021 would lead to partisan takeovers of local election commissions, leading to a reduction in early voting on Sundays – a popular option among black worshipers, a key Democratic constituency.

Those fears collided last week in Spalding County — a rural area south of Atlanta — when a newly reconstituted electoral board voted 3-2 to eliminate early voting Sunday in the upcoming election.

The decision “severely restricts an important voting option for all voters in Spalding County, but particularly for black voters who have a historic community tradition called ‘Souls to the Polls’ of stepping up and voting on Sundays,” Aklima Khondoker of the New Georgia Project, an organization working to expand voting access in Georgia, told CNN.

“The lasting impact here is that Spalding County (Election Commission) is not prioritizing ballot access for its voters and especially black voters who have long suffered from unequal ballot access,” said she added.

About 35% of Spalding residents are black.

Ben Johnson, the Republican chairman of the Spalding County Board of Trustees, argued at last week’s meeting that there are many other options, including mail-in voting and the ability to vote on two Saturdays during the 17-day early voting window in Georgia.

“I still haven’t heard anything that makes me say we absolutely have to do this,” he said of Sunday’s poll. “I’ve heard a lot of emotional arguments and I sympathize with all of them. Anyone who only has Sundays – God bless them – but we have mail-in ballots available.

Much of the consternation among voting rights groups centers on the sweeping voting rights law, known as SB202, signed into law in Georgia last year. It allows for partisan takeovers of local election commissions deemed underperforming by state election officials. (Georgia’s State Elections Board is currently considering whether to do so in Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that includes parts of Atlanta.)

It also erects new barriers to absentee voting by mail, suffrage advocates say, by requiring voters to show ID to request mail-in ballots. And it limits the times and locations of drop boxes that voters use to return their ballots.

The Georgia legislature also handed control of more election commission appointments to conservative local judges or GOP-controlled county commissions in at least five counties — including Spalding — which shifted the balance. supporter of the powers of these commissions.

The electoral stakes are high in Georgia, where President Joe Biden won by less than 12,000 votes in 2020 and competitive Senate and gubernatorial races will be held this fall.

With Georgia’s May 24 primary fast approaching, a group of African-American religious leaders and suffrage advocates recently met in Atlanta to strategize on how to navigate new election laws. in this battlefield state.

Central to their plans: improving voter education to explain all the new rules around absentee voting, drop boxes and early voting.

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, told Kelly the goal is to make sure voters don’t get discouraged by all the changes.

“We are resilient people,” Jackson said. “And I think as determined as they are to stop us from voting, I think we’re going to be just as determined and even more determined to get out and vote.”

We covered the redistricting in a recent newsletter, but wanted to update readers on the status.

Here’s the latest from CNN producers Ethan Cohen and Melissa Holzberg DePalo, who are following developments closely:

As May, with its busy primary calendar, fast approaches, redistricting is still dragging on – leaving voters in some states without new district boundaries for seats in the US House. And recent developments could erode some of the Democrats’ early successes in the fight for new lines.

Three states — Florida, Missouri, and New Hampshire — haven’t adopted new district maps to account for population changes documented in the 2020 census. And in all three, it’s Republicans who haven’t failed to agree to finish drawing new maps of Congress.

Republican governors. Ron DeSantis of Florida and Chris Sununu of New Hampshire halted the legislative process in their respective states. Last month, DeSantis vetoed a map passed by the Republican-controlled legislature because it failed to sever a black plurality congressional district — which likely would have created another seat for Republicans. DeSantis instead proposed a map of Congress that would reduce black political power and cost Democrats more seats. Florida Republicans promised to back DeSantis’ map during their special legislative session this week, but it is likely to face legal challenges once approved.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Sununu opposed a Republican-passed map that would have created a Republican-leaning district and a Democratic-leaning district. Sununu wants the map to be more competitive and give each party a more equal chance of winning in both districts. The State House redistricting committee will review Sununu’s draft map this week, which may come just in time, as the state Supreme Court recently announced that it will appoint a special master to draw the map if Sununu and the legislature fail to reach an agreement. .

And in Missouri, the redistricting has been caught up in a Republican feud in the state legislature. A small group of state Senate Republicans refused for weeks to vote for a map that would maintain the current Republican advantage of 6-2; they wanted a 7-1 card. They ultimately lost that fight, but now the plan has stalled at the State House. Several lawsuits are pending in the state for the courts to step in to draw the map.

However, in many states, simply getting a map passed is only half the battle, as disputes over new lines can undo the work of state lawmakers.

In New York, a lower court judge ruled that the map drawn by the Democratic-controlled state legislature, which could favor the party in 22 of the state’s 26 congressional seats, was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state constitution. But that decision has been put on hold pending appeal. There will be a hearing on Wednesday, and a decision on the matter is expected soon after, but the case is still likely to end up in New York’s highest court. The longer the legal proceedings drag on, the more likely it is that the map drawn by the legislature will be used in this year’s election.

Democrats also had another recent legal defeat in Maryland, where a state judge blocked that state’s map on similar partisan fairness grounds. According to this map, Republicans could have been excluded from the state congressional delegation. However, Maryland Democrats reached an agreement with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and passed a new plan that would securely retain the state’s only Republican seat and make one of the state’s seven Democratic districts more competitive.

Legal battles are also underway in several other states. In some, like Kansas, the cards may change before the 2022 election. But we’re fast approaching the heart of the primary schedule, and in many states where litigation is ongoing, like Ohio, Georgia and Texas, any court-ordered changes are more likely to go into effect for the 2024 cycle.

  • This smart story from The Washington Post that examines the few fraud cases prosecuted by local prosecutors across the country — despite repeated calls from former President Donald Trump’s allies for mass arrests.
  • The latest from CNN’s Dianne Gallagher on a high-profile voter fraud investigation – involving former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
  • Fredreka’s article on campaign money pouring into races under the Supreme Court’s radar – contests that are now in the spotlight as Democrats and Republicans wage war in court over legislative cards of Congress and the States.

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