Dear Members of the Georgia State Board of Elections:
In mid-December, we attended your meeting. Like many other Georgians, we were appalled by what happened in our 2018 election, are concerned about what is going to happen in 2020, and wanted to see, first hand, what our state was going to do to improve elections this year.
What we saw both encouraged and deeply disturbed us. It was inspiring to see so many passionate Georgians come out to address the board, all with the same message: we want to see free and fair elections that accurately reflect the will of all Georgians, without a thumb on the scale for either side. A group of non-partisan citizens also suggested some common-sense rule changes to that end, like designating a drop-off location for absentee and mail-in ballots at each polling place. The level of civic engagement made us hopeful about the future of our state.
The actions of the board, however, made us concerned about 2020. To begin with, in a surprise move announced just before the hearing, you moved the session for proposing rules and amendments from the beginning of the meeting to the end, after hours and hours of Board business. It felt designed to encourage people to leave. And once we got to the proposals from the public, it felt as though the board brushed them aside. It considered only those proposals made by the state’s own chosen representative, which did not feel calculated to make our elections more accessible to all Georgians and, at times, felt affirmatively harmful and likely to suppress the vote.
Most troubling are the proposals that seem likely to chill efforts at third-party voter registration — that is, rules that seem designed to scare people off of registering their fellow citizens to vote. Such efforts call to mind a law passed by the Tennessee legislature last year that was criticized as an effort to discourage the registration of people of color and other voters. Indeed, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction on the law, writing that it would have a “chilling effect” on voter registration and that “restricting voter registration drives in order to try to preserve election commission resources is like poisoning the soil in order to have an easier harvest.” It’s hard not to feel that the same is happening in Georgia, given the recent record turnout of Black voters. Voter fraud is already illegal, so any extra penalties attached to voter registration feel like attempts to stop voter registration drives and other related efforts.
This should not be happening anywhere in America, but it is particularly offensive for it to occur in Georgia, which was so central in the struggle for Black Americans to gain equal voting rights. Georgians and Americans in the civil rights struggle fought and died opposing crude attempts to keep the “wrong kinds of people” from voting. Over 50 years ago, we were told that that was settled and that our elections would be fair and free and open to everyone. Now, however, instead of preventing people from voting if they can’t answer how many bubbles are on a bar of soap, our state is purging voter rolls and is now considering intimidating people who are trying to get unregistered Georgians to register to vote.
We understand that at your January 22 meeting, you will consider public comment on the proposed rules. We ask that you reject any proposals that will chill third-party voter registration and instead focus on extending the vote to all Georgians. The board should be focused on ensuring that our votes are safe and accurately counted instead of trying to keep people away from the polls in the name of fighting non-existent voter fraud. We want an election of which all Georgians can be proud.
Adalius Thomas (Former NFL Linebacker, Players Coalition Member) and Takeo Spikes (Former NFL Linebacker, Players Coalition Member)