Voters in line

Hundreds of people wait in line to early vote in Chicago last year. Black Americans can resist voter suppression efforts by voting in large numbers.

— Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP, File

The onslaught of Republican-backed voter restriction law in Georgia and across the country is an attempt to suppress the votes of Black voters and others who lean Democratic.

The bill signed into law in Georgia overhauls state elections by adding new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how voting is run. Republicans say the new laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. But there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

The laws were passed after Democrats captured the state’s two Senate seats and won the state back from former President Donald Trump last fall.

Similar laws are being passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country. None of these laws will actually stop anyone from voting. That would be illegal.

The real purpose of these new laws is to lower voter turnout by making voting more difficult. Republican elected officials have made the cold and cynical political calculation that their chances of winning elections are better if fewer Americans voted.

GOP leaders seek to discourage Black, Latino and young voters who lean Democratic. Don’t let them.

These new laws must continue to be resisted with lawsuits, threats of boycotts and talk of eliminating the filibuster to pass legislation to protect voting rights.

Ordinary Americans can also push back by contacting their senators and representatives in Congress.

In an interview with Tribune Correspondent Samaria Bailey, Francys Johnson, chairman of the New Georgia Project, encouraged nationwide support for efforts to fight against new voter restrictions laws there, pointing out how Philadelphians can also get involved.

“Pressure their senator — their U.S. senator — to get the Senate to move on Senate Bill 1, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It would provide federal oversight in these critical areas and make many parts of the Georgia law moot. That bill is not moving because of America’s fascination with white supremacy tools like the filibuster. We need Democrats to come in line and support ending the filibuster. It shouldn’t apply when it comes to the fundamental rights of Americans. And I can think of nothing more fundamental to citizenship than the right to vote,” said Johnson. “Secondly, make sure that you are on guard because what is being done in Georgia will become a blueprint for voter suppression across the country.”

Johnson added that similar laws are being proposed in different states, including Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Chris Rabb (D-200) said the odds of such a law passing in Pennsylvania under Gov. Tom Wolf are slim but that voters should still be aware.

“They’ve introduced many bills that promote voter suppression [but] what makes Pennsylvania different is we have a Democratic governor that opposes voter suppression. He would veto any voter suppression bill and Republicans do not have the votes to override,” he said. “We should be vigilant but we should not be alarmist.”

Rabb is right — voters here should not become alarmists. But we should be prepared. The Republican-controlled state legislature could seek to pass legislation similar to the new laws in Georgia if a Republican governor is elected in the commonwealth.

Selective patronage is another way ordinary voters outside of Georgia can have impact. Efforts to raise awareness around the Georgia law could include a boycott. Johnson said discussions around which companies will be targeted are ongoing.

“The New Georgia Project has not formally called for a boycott yet, but we encourage people to always consider your buying power is a part of your voice,” he said. “We’ve got a list of those companies that not only supported this bill but actually donated money to the legislators who dreamed it up.”

Ordinary Americans can also push back by registering and voting in high numbers in every election — not in just the presidential election, which draws the most media attention. High voter must become a habit.

Locally we can start with the upcoming May 18 Pennsylvania primary. The last day to register to vote for the primary election is May 3. If you are not registered please do so and encourage family and friends to also register and vote. High voter turnout in the May primary will send a clear and strong message.

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