Hannah Gebresilassie, an impetuous 30-year-old activist seasoned by a considerable number of battles, feels she has had a lot to do with the historic turn that the southern state of Georgia, a longtime conservative fiefdom, put at the polls last November. Also, in the electoral law that the Republicans have promoted later and that has become, of course, their new war front. Gebresilassie spent months mired in mobilizing the vote in those communities that normally participate less – blacks and other minorities, as well as the other disadvantaged – in a campaign that sums up as follows: “We were many organizations involved, we helped people to register In order to vote, we took people who needed it by car to schools, we made sure they showed up on the day it was due, we gave pizza and water to those who were waiting in line for hours… ”.
With the new legislation, the latter will be a crime. The Georgia Electoral Integrity Act, passed by a Republican-majority state House on March 25, introduces a series of voting restrictions for all, but as a result, they complicate the suffrage of the most disadvantaged groups, in what Democrats point out as a deliberate maneuver to reduce the participation of blacks especially, who were key in the progressive turn of the last elections.
Among other changes, the rule expands the territories for early voting and by mail, but shortens the deadline (from 180 to 78 days) to request it and requires a photo ID to obtain it; reduces the number of mailboxes to deposit them compared to 2020, when they were implemented due to the pandemic; vetoes early voting beyond seven in the morning and seven at night and allows counties to further reduce that time: from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon. It also reinforces the power of the Legislative Chamber over the electoral process, which arouses great fears in view of the pulse recently experienced in the last elections.
And, indeed, in those traditionally long queues that form at polling places -some, lasting several hours- who comes to deliver food or drink -if they do so 150 feet (45 meters) from the site or 25 from the queue. – will be committing a crime. The argument of the legislators is that the groups that are dedicated to it try to condition the vote in the final stretch.
The Republican Governor of the State, Brian Kemp, assured that the approved legislation “makes it easier to vote and more difficult to cheat,” words that gave nature to the traditional suspicion of massive electoral fraud by conservative voters and that in the presidential elections of 2020 reached a paroxysm thanks to a promoter of luxury: then-President Donald Trump. “People never thought in their life that Georgia would turn blue [el color con el que se identifica al Partido Demócrata en Estados Unidos] and this law is a direct response to the entire black community and other minorities who came to vote, ”says Gebresilassie, also black.
The activist, promoter of Protect the vote GA, speaks in the middle of the street, in one of the great arteries that crosses Atlanta, with a sign in her hand calling for justice for Jamarion Robinson, a young black man killed by the police in 2016, in a police operation. After the November 3 elections, several Republican states, such as Iowa, Texas and Arizona, have pushed for other electoral reforms of similar characteristics, but nowhere does this battle take on as much symbolism and force as in Georgia, with its history of racial violence, and especially in Atlanta.
Birthplace of Martin Luther King and John Lewis, the city occupies Fulton County, one of those pieces of land where Donald Trump left half the presidency. It is also the home of flagships of the American economy, such as Coca-Cola or Delta airline, which have taken a position against the law, fueling a parallel dispute and calls for a boycott. Georgia is also the place where, for the first time in decades, two Democratic senators were elected and, at the very least, gave control to Joe Biden’s party in Washington’s upper house.
For the former Republican president, it became an obsession. It was the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, whom he phoned in early January to insist on his theory of fraud and urge to “find” the “11,780 votes”With which the result of the entire State would be turned around. Raffensperger endured the pressure, but the new law would also change this chapter in history if it repeats itself. With the change, the occupant of this position will have less power, since he will cease to be a member of the State Electoral Council and this will have the power to dismiss the local or county authorities in charge of the electoral process in case of negligence.
Republicans argue that their law, in fact, expands early voting in some territories, guarantees the cessation of corrupt officials and, as for the water controversy, workers at the center can provide drinks. They will also continue to make more voting boxes than there were in 2016.
Two iconic barber shops in the city host these two poles of thought. The one, by Tommy Thomas, has been a regular stop for notable Republican politicians for years, as photos on the walls show, including a large red hat with the Trump slogan: “Make America Great Again.” The other, Bobby’s Barbershop, exhibits photographs of Barack Obama, Kamala Harris or the late John Lewis – one of their illustrious clients – as well as a drawing of George Floyd’s face and a poster with the slogan: Black lives matter.
In the first, Thomas, a middle-aged man who embodies the generation at the helm of the business, responds quickly and decisively, like a torrent over the disputed law: “I find it great, when I go to the bank or when I get on the plane, I teach the driver’s license, even when I want to buy a bottle of liquor, at my age, I have to show it. It is not fair that people can request a remote vote without presenting one, we should all have a card ”, explains the barber.
Personal identification is one of those most difficult disputes to understand outside of the United States. There is no national identity document in that country. The most common form of identification is the driver’s license or some other type of document issued by the States, but many citizens (entities such as the Brenan Institute and others raise it to 11% of the population – normally the oldest, poor or excluded ) – they do not have them or they are not up to date, because they do not have the necessary supporting documents to obtain it and the process to obtain them costs a fee that they cannot afford.
Thomas was one of those surprised by the Republican defeat. In his opinion, “there was fraud, although there are those who say not enough to change the elections.” “I don’t know exactly,” he adds, “did they rob us? Probably, but today is another day. We are going to organize ourselves better ”.
From the front door of Bobby’s Barbershop, 70-year-old Samuel Deall remembers how he first voted in Atlanta in 1965, surrounded by National Guard soldiers, in a volcanic environment that “could erupt at any moment.” He has not stopped doing it even once in his life since then, but many others have: “Any data change that you do not notify creates a problem for you, many people do not have a computer, and then it costs them more, or they do not have a polling station nearby and you have mobility problems, or you have very few free hours to vote… If you want a good democracy, what you do is facilitate all that ”.
Organizations such as the historic Union for the Defense of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the United States (Aclu) or the NAACP (the great association for the defense of black people), consider that the package of measures translates into a “vote suppression” operation for partisan purposes and have taken the matter to court.
The basic battle is national and the Democrats have responded with the proposal of a common law proposing a common law that, on the contrary, seeks to expand and shield minimum access to suffrage throughout the country. Also states blue, like the progressive Washington, reacts with state regulations that seek to expand the vote of ex-convicts. For Cliff Albright, executive director of Black Voters Matter, “you have to literally go back to the time of reconstruction after the Civil War to see a law of restrictive tendencies like this, that’s how historic this attempt to suppress the vote is.”
The brawl has risen in voltage over time. President Joe Biden has come to associate the legislation with “Jim Crow,” referring to the rules that institutionalized racial segregation in the late 1800s. The MLB (Major League Baseball) has pulled the 91st edition of the All-Star Game from Atlanta. For the Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, the organization commits “economic blackmail.” But if the final effect of these changes remains to be seen at the polls, the limitations that some states have been promoting in recent years regarding personal identifications have been responded to with a greater mobilization effort by the Democrats. The 2020 turnout broke a 120-year record. Among Democrats and among Republicans.
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