How the Georgia debates highlight the ongoing fight for voting rights in America

The Independent Politics 3 weeks ago

When the leading 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls hop on stage in Atlanta for the fifth Democratic debates, the candidates will have no dearth of topics to discuss — but perhaps one of the most important and relevant facing them will concern the right to vote.

Georgia is known to be a deep-red state in the deep-red South, but political fortunes there have slowly threatened to change in recent years as the minority populations have burgeoned to take up an increasingly large piece of the electoral pie.

And, the state made frequent front pages for that tension last year during the 2018 midterms, when Democrat Stacey Abrams came within striking distance of the governor’s mansion but was thwarted by then-Georgia secretary of State Brian Kemp. That election ensured that a Republican has been in control of the governorship for more than 16 years — but was shrouded in accusations of voter suppression against minorities and likely Democratic voters.

The Independent caught up with Myrna Perez, the director of Brennan Centre’s Voting Rights and Election Program at New York University, to discuss the upcoming debate. That interview, below, has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Vermont senator has announced that he will be running again in 2020 after losing out to Hilary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries. He intends to run on a similar platform of democratic socialist reform
The former vice president - poised to be a frontrunner - has announced his run. He recently faced scrutiny for inappropriate touching of women, but was thought to deal with the criticism well
The Massachusetts Senator has formally launched her bid for president in 2020. A progressive Democrat, she is a major supporter of regulating Wall Street.
The New York mayor announced his bid on 16 May 2019. He emerged in 2013 as a leading voice in the left wing of his party but has struggled to build a national profile and has suffered a number of political setbacks in his time as mayor
The Indiana mayor and war veteran will be running for president. If elected, he would be the first openly LGBT+ president in American history
The former Texas congressman formally launched his bid for the presidency in March. He intends to run on a progressive platform, stating that the US is driven by "gross differences in opportunity and outcome"
The Montana governor announced his bid on 14 May. He stated "We need to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 and defeat the corrupt system that lets campaign money drown out the people's voice, so we can finally make good on the promise of a fair shot for everyone." He also highlighted the fact that he won the governor's seat in a red [Republican] state
The New Jersey Senator has announced that he will be running for the presidency in 2020. If he secures the nomination he said finding a female vice president would be a priority
Mayor of the city of Miramar in the Miami metropolitan area, Wayne Messam has announced his bid. He intends to run on a progressive platform against the "broken" federal government. He favours gun regulations and was a signatory to a letter from some 400 mayors condemning President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord
The New York Senator formally announced her presidential bid in January, saying that “healthcare should be a right, not a privilege”
The former California attorney general will be running for president in 2020. Introduced to the national stage during Jeff Sessions’ testimony, she has endorsed Medicare-for-all and proposed a major tax-credit for the middle class
The Maryland congressman was the first to launch his bid for presidency, making the announcement in 2017
The Hawaii congresswoman announced her candidacy in January, but is likely to face tough questions on her past comments on LGBT+ rights and her stance on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
The entrepreneur has announced his presidential candidacy, and has pledged that he would introduce a universal basic income of $1,000 a month to every American over the age of 18
The former San Antonio mayor announced his candidacy in January and said that his running has a “special meaning” for the Latino community in the US
The author and spiritual adviser has announced her intention to run for president. She had previously run for congress as an independent in 2014 but was unsuccessful
One of the younger candidates, Swalwell has served on multiple committees in the House of Representatives. He intends to make gun control central to his campaign
A Massachusetts congressman, Moulton is a former US soldier who is best known for trying to stop Nancy Pelosi from becoming speaker of the house
Klobuchar is a Minnesota senator who earned praise for her contribution to the Brett Kavanaugh hearings
Inslee has been governor of Washington since 2013. His bid centres around climate change
The former governor of Colorado is running on a sensible ticket. He aims to sell himself as an effective leader who is open to compromise and evidences this with his experience as governor
Ohio representative Tim Ryan will be running a campaign that hinges on his working class roots

What are you watching for in the Atlanta debate?
Bread and butter democracy issues. The idea that our right to vote is fundamental. The idea that our elections should be free, fair and accessible. The idea that Americans should be able to trust the outcomes of elections.

The idea that people are going to be free from racial discrimination when they step into the ballot box. These are all foundational issues for our country. 

We hope that we see candidates expressing a commitment an affirmative to those things.

How does Georgia specifically play into concerns surrounding access to the ballot?
Georgia is significant because it is one of those states that have compounding barriers to the ballot box. 

So, let’s start: First there were allegations that groups that were trying to register voters were being targeted and harassed and the registrations weren’t being processed. And then if you were able to get through that hurdle, they had what you would call a ‘no match no vote’ law where, if your information didn’t perfectly match with what some other database said, your registration wouldn’t go through.

Then if you were able to pass all those hurdles you might have had your name purged from voter rolls. If you were able to go through those hurdles, it was unclear if your polling place would be in the same place it was during past elections. Then if you were able to go through those hurdles you would be required to have an ID that between 8 and 12 per cent of Americans don’t have.

If something else went wrong and you showed up, then you’d be getting a provisional ballot that wasn’t even a fail-safe as much as it was a placebo. Any one voter might not get hooked up by all of these potential problems, but these are compounding barriers that just shave people out of the electorate and frustrate people given personal and time sacrifices that people are making to be able to cast a ballot.

Stacey Abrams flames Trump for voter suppression in Democrats' response to State of the Union

Have we seen this change political outcomes?
No one has, to my knowledge, been able to quantify exactly how the outcomes have been changed, but I would submit that it’s not about the candidates and who wins. It’s about the voters’ fundamental right to vote.

Even if they are shut out of the process and the candidates they wanted to win were elected, that still doesn’t mean that they weren’t injured.

The vote is the way we resolve peaceably our political differences, it is a way you demonstrate our political power.

It is a way you send a strong message that you care about your community, and you care about the direction of your country. It’s revealing and powerful even if your vote doesn’t swing a particular election.

I think anytime we have a ballot that has been lost, then that is something that makes our democracy poorer and that’s a growth opportunity to all of us. We should be in a place where every American is casting a ballot and having it counted. 

Stacey Abrams' new group sues Georgia officials to fix 'grossly mismanaged' election system

How might this impact 2020?
I think it’s going to be an important year because there’s a lot of political excitement, and a lot of energy around the elections. 

I think it’s going to be important because there are a lot of races at all levels of government that are going to be on the ballot. I think it’s important because the country is at a moment where there is very public disagreement about the direction of the country. Again the way we resolve things politically is through the ballot.

It matters because there is some frustration and mistrust because we have heard things like Russian cyber criminals trying to interfere with our election and politicians at all levels of the government claiming there has been fraud.

I think democracy and foundational issues about how it is that we come together and move forward are going to be on the ballot.

Especially at a time when we see high turnout — all the things that are wrong or strained are going to be really acute. 

Stacey Abrams: 'I'm supposed to say nice things and accept my fate'

Who do these voting access issues generally impact?
There are politicians who are concerned about the “browning of America” — the changing demographics — and are pushing towards changes that would make it harder for certain Americans to register to vote, and those Americans are often folks who have been traditionally disenfranchised. They include people of colour, they include young people, they include seniors and folks with disabilities.

Georgia was a real hot spot in 2018, it was the Florida of elections this last election cycle, and Georgians deserve better.  We need to make sure that when folks go to the ballot box, that they feel confident in the outcome and that political operatives aren’t trying to bend the rules of the game so some people can participate and some can’t.

I think 2020 is a real opportunity for Georgia to demonstrate that they can do better. We’ll be watching and we hope that they will.


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