“In March, Georgia Republicans passed SB 202, a sweeping new election law that erects obstacles between Georgia voters and their right to cast a ballot. While some are relatively minor or even popular, the most ominous provisions of this new law allow the state election board, which is dominated by Republicans, to seize control of county election boards. Those boards can disqualify voters, move polling precincts, and potentially even refuse to certify an election count.”
“letters from Republican lawmakers are the first step in the legal process Republicans may use to take over elections in Fulton County, the most populous county in the state, which encompasses most of Atlanta. In 2020, nearly 73 percent of Fulton County voters cast a ballot for President Joe Biden. Biden won the county by nearly a quarter-million votes, enough to push him ahead of former President Donald Trump in a state decided by 11,779 votes overall.
Both letters ask the state elections board to begin a “performance review” of the local officials who oversee elections in Fulton County. The senators claim that such a review is justified because “nearly 200 ballots were scanned twice last fall” during the initial vote count in Fulton — a claim that was previously featured on Tucker Carlson’s show.
The reality is much more nuanced, and it suggests that the state’s existing systems worked exactly as they were supposed to work. Although nearly 200 ballots were double-counted during the first count of Fulton County’s ballots, Georgia conducted both a machine recount and a hand recount of all its ballots, given how close the statewide result was. And there’s no evidence that any ballots were counted twice in the final tallies that showed Biden ahead of Trump.
It appears likely that a poll worker in Fulton County made a minor clerical error, and this error was corrected in the subsequent recounts.
Nevertheless, it is probably inevitable that the GOP-controlled state elections board will open an investigation into Fulton County. And once this investigation concludes, the state board can use it as a pretext to remove Fulton County’s local elections board and replace it with a temporary superintendent who can undermine voting within that county.”
“The outcome of Georgia’s 2022 statewide elections, in other words, may not be determined by the state’s voters. It could hinge on a sham investigation into Fulton County’s election administration — and by a partisan board’s subsequent decision to place a partisan official in charge of counting most of the votes in Atlanta.”
“prior efforts to restrict the franchise frequently placed unnecessary hurdles in the way of voters, such as by requiring them to show certain forms of ID or by limiting where and when voters can cast their ballot. These sorts of laws are troubling, but they can be overcome by determined voters.
SB 202, by contrast, is part of a new generation of election laws that target the nuts and bolts of election administration, potentially allowing voters to be disenfranchised even if they follow the rules.”
“The Voting Rights Act is arguably the most successful civil rights law in American history. Originally signed in 1965, it was the United States’ first serious attempt since Reconstruction to build a multiracial democracy — and it worked. Just two years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, Black voter registration rates in the Jim Crow stronghold of Mississippi skyrocketed from 6.7 percent to nearly 60 percent.
And yet, in a trio of cases — Shelby County v. Holder (2013), Abbott v. Perez (2018), and Brnovich v. DNC (2021) — the Court drained nearly all of the life out of this landmark statute. After Brnovich, the decision that inspired Kagan’s statement that the Court has treated the Voting Rights Act worse than any other federal law, it’s unclear whether the Supreme Court would rule in favor of voting rights plaintiffs even if a state legislature tried to outright rig an election.
These cases are the culmination of more than half a century of efforts by conservatives who, after failing to convince elected lawmakers to weaken voting rights, turned to an unelected judiciary to enact a policy that would never have made it through Congress. All of this is bad news for minority voters in America, who are most likely to be disadvantaged by many of the new restrictions currently being pushed in statehouses across America, and for the country’s relatively young commitment to multiracial democracy. And there are at least three reasons to fear that decisions like Shelby County and Brnovich foreshadow even more aggressive attacks on the right to vote.”
“Georgia recently enacted a law that effectively enables the state Republican Party to disqualify voters and shut down polling precincts. If the state GOP wields this law to close down most of the polling places in the highly Democratic, majority-Black city of Atlanta, it’s unclear that a Voting Rights Act that’s been gravely wounded by three Supreme Court decisions remains vibrant enough to block them.”
“The impact of Shelby County was fairly swift. In 2013, for example, Texas enacted racially gerrymandered legislative maps, even though a federal court had rejected many key elements of these maps under the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provisions. Yet, with preclearance dead, the Supreme Court upheld nearly all of Texas’s gerrymandered maps in Abbott v. Perez (2018).
Similarly, if preclearance were still in effect, it is unlikely that many of the controversial provisions of Georgia’s recently enacted voter suppression law would survive. And certainly no federal official acting in good faith would permit Georgia to simply start closing down polling places in Black neighborhoods.”
“The biggest uncertainty surrounding the Court’s voting rights decisions, in other words, is whether the Court will enable efforts to lock Republicans into power no matter what voters do to elect their candidates of choice, or whether the Court’s majority will, at some point, tell their fellow Republicans in state legislatures that they’ve gone too far.
The answers to these questions, moreover, won’t be found anywhere in the Constitution, or in any law enacted by Congress. The Roberts Court’s voting rights cases bear far more resemblance to the old English common law, a web of entirely judge-created legal rules governing areas such as contracting and property rights, than they do to the modern, more democratic model where federal judges are supposed to root their decisions in legal texts. The future of democracy in the United States will be decided by six Republican-appointed justices’ arbitrary whims.
And, if a majority of the justices do support a wholesale attack on liberal democracy, their actions will hardly be unprecedented.
Nearly a century before President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Congress and state legislatures passed a different kind of legislation that was supposed to guarantee the franchise to people of color.
It’s called the 15th Amendment, with its command that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The pre-Voting Rights Act United States did not deny voting rights to millions of African Americans because we lacked a legal guarantee protecting the right to vote. We did so because powerful public officials — including judges — decided that they did not care what the Constitution had to say about voting rights.
We’re about to find out whether the Supreme Court is going to repeat that history.”
“Brnovich upholds both Arizona laws — a provision that disenfranchises voters for casting a ballot in the wrong precinct, and another that prevents most third parties from delivering another voter’s absentee ballot to a polling place. But Alito’s opinion most likely preserves civil rights plaintiffs’ ability to challenge many of the most odious provisions of the voter suppression laws currently being pushed by Republican state lawmakers in other states.”
“the opinion is limited in scope. Brnovich does not apply to all Voting Rights Act cases, or even to all cases involving the law’s “results test” — the specific provision of the Voting Rights Act at issue in the case. Rather, the opinion limits its analysis to “cases involving neutral time, place, and manner rules” governing elections. Thus, while Brnovich does shrink the Voting Rights Act considerably, it primarily does so in this limited context.”
“Alito lays out five factors that govern future “time, place and manner” lawsuits (more on this five-factor test below). One of the practical upshots of these five new factors is that states will largely be free to enact voting rules that were common in 1982, when a key amendment to the Voting Rights Act became law. But novel restrictions on the right to vote are less likely to survive judicial scrutiny.”
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the seminal law that broke the back of Jim Crow, along with the previous year’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is arguably the most successful civil rights law in American history, and it was this nation’s first serious legislative attempt since Reconstruction to build a pluralistic democracy rooted in the principle of racial equality.”
“Under a 1982 amendment to the law, the Voting Rights Act has three prongs, but the Supreme Court has either deactivated or severely weakened two of these prongs. The first is “preclearance,” which required states with a history of racist voting practices to “preclear” any new voting practices with officials in Washington, DC — in order to ensure that those practices did not discriminate on the basis of race.
The Supreme Court gutted preclearance in Shelby County v. Holder (2013).
The second prong of the Voting Rights Act is known as the “intent test,” and it prohibits state voting practices enacted with racist intent. But, in Abbott v. Perez (2018), the Supreme Court held that lawmakers enjoy such a high presumption of racial innocence that it is nearly impossible to prove invidious intent, except in the most egregious cases.
That leaves the third prong of the law, known as the “results test,” which derives from the Voting Rights Act’s language forbidding a state election practice that “results in a denial or abridgement of the right … to vote on account of race or color.””
“Alito’s opinion is vague, and it leaves as many questions open as it answers. When courts are faced with “time, place, and manner” cases under the Voting Rights Act, he writes, “any circumstance that has a logical bearing on whether voting is ‘equally open’ and affords equal ‘opportunity’ may be considered.” Nevertheless, he also provides a non-exhaustive list of five factors that “should be mentioned.””
“One impact of this decision, in other words, is that many laws that have a disparate impact on voters of color will be upheld — though it is not yet clear just how severe a law’s impact on minority voters must be before the courts will intervene.”
“The upshot of Brnovich, in other words, is that it gives states tremendous power to roll back expansions of voting rights such as early voting and expanded access to absentee ballots, although that power may be limited if such restrictions are imposed in ways that clearly target voters of color.”
“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of voter suppression laws. Many provisions currently being pushed by Republican state lawmakers make it harder to cast a ballot in a certain way — such as by mailing in the ballot or placing it in a drop box. Or they place unnecessary procedural obstacles in the way of voters. These provisions often serve no purpose other than to make it more difficult to vote, but they also are not insurmountable obstacles.
Other provisions are more virulent. They might disqualify voters for no valid reason. Or allow partisan officials to refuse to certify an election, even if there are no legitimate questions about who won. Or make it so difficult for some voters, who are likely to vote for the party that is out of power, to cast their ballot that it’s nigh impossible for the incumbent party to lose.”
“the most common kind of law that seeks to make the results of an election impervious to the will of the voters: gerrymandering. The Census Bureau expects to provide states with the data they need to draw new congressional and state legislative districts this fall. Once that data is available, states like Georgia and Texas are likely to draw maps that seek to entrench Republican rule as much as possible. (Democrats also engage in gerrymandering, but blue states are more likely to use independent commissions to draw district lines, or to have other safeguards that limit partisan redistricting.)
Gerrymanders can potentially make the fight to control a legislative body all but impervious to the will of the voters. In 2018, for example, Democratic candidates for the Wisconsin state assembly received 54 percent of the popular vote, but Republicans won nearly two-thirds of the seats.”