Mobilize groups to help voters facing new electoral laws
ATLANTA (AP) — Rhonda Briggins spent much of 2020 election day at an Atlanta polling station handing out water and snacks to encourage voters to wait in an hour-long line to cast their ballots, something their historic black sorority has known for decades Georgia does.
In this election, Briggins and some of her Thousand Sisters trade that role for a potentially more controversial one: making sure voters aren’t disenfranchised by a set of new voting restrictions passed by the Republican-led legislature. They include a ban on serving food and drink to waiting voters.
The law, which a federal judge allowed this election cycle, was too confusing for the sorority to take chances to conduct its traditional “lineage relief,” said Briggins, chair of the Delta Sigma Theta Strategic Partnerships Task Force and a member of the Decatur Alumnae chapter of the sorority.
“The line between criminalization and helpfulness is too narrow,” she said. “We don’t want to get that far”
Georgia is one of several states where voters will face new hurdles in November’s election under legislation passed by Republican-led lawmakers after former President Donald Trump made false claims that voter fraud was preventing him from reelection in the year 2020 have cost. The restrictions have prompted groups to help voters reorient themselves so they don’t walk past new obstacles.
They anticipate electoral confusion and conflict, and are redoubling efforts to register and educate voters.
Lawmakers in 21 states have passed at least 42 restrictive laws since 2021, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice. At least 33 of them apply to this year’s Midterms. Some contain multiple changes, such as B. Legislative packages in Georgia and Texas. Others, such as Arizona, are less expansive or not yet applicable in some cases.
Georgia’s 98-page bill included dozens of changes to state electoral law. These include shortening the deadline for applying for postal voting, reversing the pandemic-related expansion of the ballot box and reducing early voting before run-off elections.
The state had argued that the water and refreshment ban was necessary to protect against illegal campaigning or vote-buying. Prosecutors also argued that it was too close to the upcoming election to make any changes.
“Again, we’re not telling anyone who to vote for,” Briggins said of the support the sorority has offered over the past few years. “We’re offering water because you’ve been in line for eight hours.”
Faith Works, a group organized by black church leaders in response to Georgia law, is providing grants to help more than 1,000 churches mobilize voters. It also aims to deploy 200 chaplains across the state to defuse tensions at polling stations.
Bishop Reginald Jackson, who heads more than 500 African Methodist Episcopal Churches in Georgia and helped found the group, blasted the new law in an attempt to repress black voters after they helped Democrats win Georgia’s presidential campaign two ago years to win for the first time since 1992.
“It is designed and intended as punishment for black people for voting in such large numbers in 2020,” he said.
Republicans have dismissed criticism that their new law restricts voting, noting that it also expands weekend early voting.
Constituencies in Georgia and elsewhere are adapting to the changing landscape. In Arizona, Mi Familia Vota is focused on voter education, including informing that a law passed this year requiring proof of citizenship for registration in federal elections is not in effect this cycle.
This provision is expected to hit Latino voters hard, in part because an element of the law requires local election officials to notify district attorneys when a prospective voter fails to provide proof of citizenship, and in various cases state election officials fail to find evidence can state databases.
“It’s part of a continuation of making it harder for people to vote,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, chief executive of Mi Familia Vota. His group joined the US Department of Justice to challenge the law in court.
A sweeping law passed in 2021 by the GOP-controlled Texas legislature resulted in thousands of ballot rejections during the state’s March primary, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
Texas Secretary of State John Scott said one county largely avoided denials by including an insert with instructions on how to fill out the mailed ballot and its return envelope. He said the practice has since been proposed to every county.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, a bipartisan group challenging the new law, spent much of a recent training session for attorneys on the law’s mandatory identification for absentee ballots and the greater difficulties the law creates for removing problematic election observers.
Claude Cummings Jr., first vice president of the Houston chapter of the NAACP, said the law’s identification requirements are particularly harsh on older black voters.
“There’s only one way to fix this — educate, educate, educate,” Cummings said. It’s a theme picked up by other groups like MOVE Texas, which held over 60 events across the state on voter registration day, all aimed at younger, potential voters.
Georgia’s Senate Bill 202 – signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp last year – was one of the first voting measures passed after Trump’s defeat. Not only does the law make it an offense to serve food or drink to a voter who is waiting in line, but it also restricts voters’ ability to cast a provisional ballot if they go to the wrong constituency. It also allows any Georgia voter to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of other voters within the same county.
Polling stations have already questioned the eligibility of thousands of voters in Metro Atlanta.
The New Georgia Project, a group founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has trained legal experts to combat any baseless attempt to disqualify voters, target them for handing out water, or falsely deny them the right to to cast a provisional ballot, Aklima Khondoker said. the Group’s Chief Legal Officer.
Khondoker said the group will be “extremely vigilant on issues of election administration, disenfranchisement, voter criminalization and everyday good volunteering.”
The Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, another group aiming to increase voting access, helped organize informational sessions about the new law in Savannah, Macon, Augusta and other cities over the summer. The group bought scanners so people could copy bank statements or other forms to apply for absentee ballots if they didn’t have a driver’s license or state-issued ID card, said Helen Butler, the group’s chief executive. SB202 replaced signature verification for mail-in voting with an identification requirement.
Community organizing group Georgia STAND-UP will host block parties near some constituencies so people can get water and food before lining up to vote, CEO Deborah Scott said. The group plans to use tape measures to ensure events are more than 150 feet (46 meters) from the precinct to comply with the new law.
Rev. Timothy McDonald, III, senior pastor of First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta and another Faith Works leader, recently led a brainstorming session that included a discussion of how to meet voter challenges. McDonald urged groups in the room to post a voter protection hotline and said voters should bring a utility bill in addition to their ID to verify their address.
“There will be some shenanigans that day,” he warned.
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