Georgia has a grave problem of systemic voter suppression. The history of voter suppression and the exclusion of people of color, women, and indigenous people from our democracy has continued rippling effects on our state. These groups are also the most at risk of being impacted by environmental pollution and climate change. Because of this, they naturally rank climate change, environment, and health among their top issues when voting.
Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, election boards have had carte blanche to eliminate polling locations, change election rules, or propose unfair maps – just as they did before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since 2012, Georgia county election officials have closed 214 polling places across the state. As a result, a third of Georgia’s counties now have fewer polling places than they had in 2012. More than half of the counties impacted by these closures have been counties where poverty rates are higher than the state average or whose population is over 25 percent Black.
Georgia has also been on the national stage for ongoing voter purges. In December 2019 alone, over 300,000 voters were purged from the rolls by Georgia’s Secretary of State. That is 4% of the electorate in Georgia — more than enough to change the outcome of close elections like the 2018 gubernatorial race.
We cannot be idle and wait for change. We need to take action now and make the change we want by voting and letting legislators know that we will not be ignored. But this only works if enough people choose to take part in elections.
GCV believes that there are multiple changes that need to be made to ensure voting rights and the preservation of election integrity. These changes are:
- Mail a ballot to all registered voters automatically before each election, ideally 30 days before the election date. Voters should not be required to have a witness or provide proof of an ID to request or return their ballot.
- Allow voters to return ballots multiple ways: through the mail, the use of secure drop boxes, and by dropping off at polling locations on the day of the election.
- Every municipality should have a minimum number of polling locations within their community based on the size of the population, located in areas that can serve all populations in the municipality and allow voters to register and vote quickly and efficiently if they choose to vote in person on election day.
- Every municipality should offer in-person access to early voting and voter registration, as well as ballot drop boxes for several weeks before Election Day.
- Voter registration should be as easy as possible through automatic voter registration in schools or at the DMV. Voters should also be able to register in person on Election Day and during early voting periods.
- All voters should remain on the voter rolls unless there is an action by the voter that indicates they have moved, or through government records (such as death records) that would indicate they are no longer eligible to vote. Wisconsin should not use passive efforts to remove voters such as through returned postcards or past voting history, which are notoriously unreliable and unfair.
- The government should fund public education efforts to ensure that all citizens are aware of how our voting process works and how they can participate.
- Citizens for whom English is a second language should have access to language assistance for voting. This should include access to ballots and elections materials in their native language.
Voting is a right in America, not a privilege. Unfortunately, there are many people who want to suppress voter turnout and are actively looking for opportunities to prevent significant portions of the population from having a chance to vote. If we believe in an equal and democratic society where every citizen has the right to speak out and add their voice, we need to ensure voting is as seamless and efficient as possible. Voter suppression is not only wrong; it is decidedly unAmerican.