Cuomo Gabriel Sterling Split June 9 2020
Cuomo grills Georgia official on primary voting delays
04:12 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Issac Bailey is a longtime journalist based in South Carolina and the Batten Professor of Communication Studies at Davidson College. He’s the author of “My Brother Moochie: Regaining Dignity in the Face of Crime, Poverty, and Racism in the American South.” His next book, “Why Didn’t We Riot? A Black Man in Trumpland,” will be released by Other Press this year. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

What happened in Georgia on Tuesday is why Stacey Abrams is on the short-list of candidates to become the Democratic nominee for vice president. It’s why the Republican Party’s problems with black voters go well beyond President Donald Trump and his bigotry.

It’s also why the racial ignorance of men like Supreme Court Justice John Roberts presents a threat to any long-term reform in voting, policing or anything else aimed at finally ridding the United States of systemic racism.

Issac Bailey

Georgia was, essentially, a third-world country Tuesday. Citizens attempting to cast their votes in the state’s primary had to stand in line for several hours, particularly those in areas with a higher percentage of black and brown residents.

Many reasons emerged – none acceptable. Poll workers didn’t understand how to operate the machines, or maybe the machines hadn’t been rigorously tested. But even before Tuesday, there were reports of people having to wait up to eight hours during the final day of early voting. According to CNN reporter Abby D. Phillip, officials don’t know why state officials say 96% of requested absentee ballots were delivered, even though vendors used by the state say 100% were sent out.

Michael McDonald of the United States Elections Project at the University of Florida told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that he had “never seen the scale of election failures happening in Georgia today” and that “it doesn’t bode well for November.”

LaTosha Brown, a cofounder of Black Voters Matter, tweeted that the last person voted at 12:37 a.m. Wednesday morning, more than five hours after the polls officially closed: “They called the police on us but we told them we were not leaving until everyone voted.”

This travesty comes in the shadow of the state’s 2018 election cycle, in which eventual winner Brian Kemp edged out Abrams in the gubernatorial race amid a host of irregularities. I don’t know if those irregularities made the difference between victory and defeat, but I know they were serious and should not have been downplayed, as Tuesday appears to have proved.

Kemp remained in charge of that election in his role as secretary of state –overseeing the race, including maintaining voter registration lists and certifying election result – even as he ran in it. This was perceived by many as a clear conflict of interest. But it did not stop Kemp, in the final days of the election, from falsely claiming that Democrats were trying to hack the vote.

Abrams refused to just go gentle into the good night, fall in line and declare that Kemp had won fair and square. Instead, she argued that under the law there was no way for her to win, then created the voting rights group Fair Fight Action. It was a bold move, one that highlighted her fearlessness and commitment to one of the most important issues of our time, equality at the ballot box, even in the face of harsh criticism.

Tuesday’s debacle is yet another wake-up call, and helps explain why the Republican problem with black voters is not just about Trump, though the party’s continued embrace of him means it has all but written off the black vote for at least a generation, further severing historical ties between the two groups.

Indeed, since the John Roberts-led Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the GOP has been on a tear, trying to make it more difficult to vote. Ahead of the November election, Republicans and conservative groups are spending millions to launch lawsuits and run ads aimed at preventing an expansion of mail-in voting, even though voters and poll workers face challenges with in-person voting during the ongoing pandemic.

Trump himself explained his opposition to mail-in voting quite plainly on Fox & Friends in March, saying of Democrats: “they have things, levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

While Republican Party officials claim they aren’t trying to suppress the black vote, it’s hard to ignore the evidence that their efforts often disproportionately harm black voters. In North Carolina, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in 2016 found unanimously that a Republican voter ID law targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.

And the Brennan Center has found that in recent election cycles, black and brown voters waited in line 45% longer than white voters and that the longer wait times were concentrated in the Southeast where there was a higher percentage of non-white voters.

What happened in Georgia isn’t a one-off. It’s happening in Texas, which, the Guardian reports, leads the US South in “closing down the most polling stations, making it more difficult for people to vote.” It’s been happening with greater frequency since the Roberts Court defanged the Voting Rights Act. More than a dozen states had put new voting restrictions in place in time for the 2016 election.

While such tactics sometimes backfire for Republicans the way they did during the April 7 election in Wisconsin, they remain a threat to democracy.

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    The Republican Party and Trump seem more outraged by phony claims of widespread voter fraud than they are about an uncomfortably-high percentage of black and brown voters being denied the vote. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates that maybe a half million failed to vote in 2016 because of polling problems.

    The legacy of this era will be with us long after Trump has left the White House. The GOP has made it clear that it would rather keep black people from voting than trying to win them over. That’s why what happened in Georgia Tuesday and what Abrams did in 2018 are so important.

    They show a party more committed to retaining power than it is to the principles of democracy, and demonstrate the power of Abrams’ appeal as part of a new guard that won’t be bullied into looking the other way while constitutional rights are at stake.