Donald Trump wants Brad Raffensperger to be secretary of state overseeing elections in Georgia. That, alone, should give any self-respecting American pause. What the state needs is not more of the voter suppression that put a truly compromised candidate in the White House in 2016 or that allowed more than 1 million Georgians to be purged from the voter rolls and tens of thousands of registrations held in electoral limbo because of a typo, a hyphen, or accent mark. What Georgia needs, instead, is democracy, which is something it hasn’t had in more than a decade. In 2005, Georgia passed the first voter ID law by a state that was under the preclearance jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act. In the wake of the civil rights movement, states like Georgia, that had a demonstrated history of discriminating against its minority citizens’ right to vote, had to have all of their voter regulations and laws approved by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) or the federal court in Washington, DC before implementation. Preclearance had provided a powerful check on the rampant abuses of the 15th amendment.
Georgia, however, emboldened by political appointees in George W Bush’s Department of Justice, forced a voter ID law through the state legislature, ignored Democrats’ concerns, especially those raised by African American and Hispanic legislators, and lied that the issue was “voter fraud”, although in the previous 10 years there were zero complaints of this sort sent to the secretary of state’s office. Nonetheless, Republican representative Sue Burmeister of Augusta said that the law was necessary because the only way African Americans were willing to cast a ballot in her district was if they were paid.
Not surprisingly, when the staff attorneys at the DoJ reviewed this law, it was clear that it was dripping with discrimination. There were massive racial disparities between those who possessed one of the approved IDs and those who didn’t. This carried through to access to the geographically scattered department of drivers’ services offices where one could obtain a license or state ID, the lack of public transportation to these facilities, and the racial disparities in ownership of private vehicles. Based on their analysis and data, the DoJ staff attorneys blocked Georgia from implementing this law. Within one day, however, they were overruled by a Bush political appointee.