News

The Political Implications Of Georgia’s New Voting Law

Protesters in favor of changes in Georgia's voting laws hold signs inside the State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., as the Legislature meets Monday, March 8, 2021, in Atlanta.
Protesters in favor of changes in Georgia's voting laws hold signs inside the State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., as the Legislature meets Monday, March 8, 2021, in Atlanta.
Credit Ben Gray / AP Photo

Days after Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly passed a controversial new voting law, its concrete impact on voting access remains up for partisan debate. But what’s immediately clear about the law, are its political implications for 2022.

“It gives [both parties] something they probably are going to weave into their campaign messages,” said Charles Bullock, political scientist at the University of Georgia.

“Republicans will say, ‘Yeah, we’ve cleaned up the problems from 2020 and 2021.’ On the Democratic side, they will make use of this legislation, and argue that it is yet another effort by Republicans to suppress the Democratic vote,” he said.

After President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims of widespread voter fraud following his narrow Georgia loss, about 750,000 voters stayed home for the January runoffs, more than half of whom were Republican-leaning.

Passing an election law, as a result, was something Republicans needed to do, said Art Gardner, a longtime Republican and former Republican candidate for Senate in 2014.

“You cannot convince somebody that the election wasn’t stolen. You just can’t,” he said. “As a result, you’ve got to do something.”

Gardner said it was a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t problem” for Republican officials.

“If they did nothing, then a whole bunch of Republicans would have felt like they didn’t address a problem those Republicans believe exists. And if they did something, which they have done, then they create this opportunity for the Democrats to jump up and down and accuse them of all sorts of improper things,” he said.

‘A Sleeping, Growing Giant’

“I think that the Georgia GOP haven’t realized yet that they actually awakened a sleeping, growing giant in Georgia,” said Tharon Johnson, a Democratic strategist and former advisor to the Biden-Harris campaign. During the next elections, he predicted, Democrats will hammer home their criticism of the law.

Protesters opposed to changes in Georgia’s voting laws sit on the steps inside the State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., as the Legislature meets Monday, March 8, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

“And at a time where historically in Georgia and other places, we know that a lot of our voters tend to go to sleep in the midterms, this issue will awaken that sleeping giant. And I believe that that’s going to ultimately help us with our path with the team to get more seats in the state legislature.”

“I think you’re going to see a tremendous amount of fundraising; you’re going to see a tremendous amount of more national recognition and more national coverage,” Johnson said.

Democratic State Rep. Teri Anulewicz said the new state law also increases pressure on federal politicians to pass new voting rights legislation in Washington.

“A lot of people consider SB 202 passing in Georgia to be, not just a shot over the bow to Congress, but kind of a cannonball on the side of the ship saying, ‘Okay, what are you going to do about this now?’” she said.

“I really think that the GOP has been incredibly short-sighted about how they’re approaching this, just from a tactical standpoint,” Anulewicz said.

“They have positioned Democrats to raise piles and piles of money going into 2022.”

Jason Shepherd, chair of the Cobb County Republican Party and candidate for chair of the state GOP, said Republicans are fundraising on the issue too.

“More than the money coming in, is the security a voter is going to feel in the state of Georgia when they go to a poll and know that their vote is going to count,” he said. Shepherd defends the law as necessary given the lack of confidence some voters have in the system, as well as the strain the voting system experienced during the election cycle. It has been a top Republican focus since the election, he said.

“We’ve heard it from our grassroots. We’ve heard it from our elected officials. We saw how quickly the governor signed it into law. It’s sad that it has to be a fundraising issue. We should be doing it just because it’s the right thing, making sure that every legal vote counts and every illegal vote doesn’t.”

The question Bullock at the University of Georgia asks is whether this new law will in fact convince the three-fourths of Republicans, who polling shows believe something “untoward” happened in the 2020 election cycle. “Is this legislation going to restore confidence, which was the rationale offered by Republicans for the legislation?”