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Charles M. Blow: Georgia voters defy attempts to disrupt US midterm 2nd round


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On the afternoon of Tuesday (29), I waited more than an hour and a half to vote in Atlanta in the second round between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker for a seat in the Senate from Georgia.

This is my second election cycle in the state, but I didn’t get used to the waiting time to vote. This waiting is itself a voter suppression tactic. It is a head tax paid on time.

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I have lived for over 25 years in New York, where I have always taken it for granted that voting is a relaxed affair. For years I took my children to the polling booth with me so they could see how the election process works. There was never a queue. There might have been one or two people ahead of us, but there was no real wait.

I wouldn’t do the same thing here in Georgia. Forcing a child to wait in a long line in the cold can be considered abuse. But as I waited, something else occurred to me: voter suppression is one of the surest cures for apathy. Nothing makes you value something as much as the fact that someone is trying to steal it from you.

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The queue, with all the people patiently waiting in it, is a symbol of resilience and perseverance. It reminds us that people are willing to go to great lengths to overcome obstacles to accomplish things they see as essential.

Waiting in lines is such a common feature of elections in Georgia that some counties even post their wait times online so voters can time their arrival to minimize the wait.

These waits often disproportionately affect nonwhite voters. According to a Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica report released ahead of Election Day 2020, a dwindling number of polling places “has been the main driver of long lines in non-white neighborhoods where the number of registered voters has increased. and more residents voted in person on Election Day”.

According to the report, the nine counties in Metro Atlanta “have nearly half of the state’s active voters but only 38% of the polling places.” But these voters were not deterred.

During the general election, voters cast a record number of snap votes in a midterm election in Georgia, and on Monday and again Tuesday they cast daily records for snap votes in a Georgia runoff. It is interesting to note that an estimated 35% of the advance votes received so far are from African Americans, slightly higher than the percentage of African Americans in Georgia’s population.

It’s a testament to the perseverance of these voters, because, as Brennan Center for Justice President Michael Waldman put it, they were the ones targeted “with astounding precision” by the state’s most recent wave of voter suppression. Waldman wrote that Governor Brian Kemp “signed his voter suppression bill in front of a painting of a ‘plantation’ where over a hundred black people had been enslaved. The hideous and disturbing symbolism is almost too appropriate.”

Voter suppression advocates point to these numbers as proof that their critics are overreacting, creating a problem where none exists. But this is the opposite of the truth, in my view. To me, voters are simply defying efforts to be suppressed.

But it is possible that this challenge is not enough. While the daily record numbers are encouraging, they are in part the result of a new Republican election law that cut the number of early election days in half. Even with that extraordinary voter turnout, early voter numbers this year are unlikely to match those who voted in last year’s runoff between Warnock and then-incumbent Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler.

Furthermore, the Republicans fielded a singularly offensive candidate in the person of Herschel Walker, a man unworthy of holding elected office. He is a walking caricature of black competence and excellence, as if black candidates are interchangeable, regardless of their accomplishments or qualities.

The whole time I was waiting in line, I was thinking how impossible such a wait would be for someone who cares for young children or the elderly, or for someone whose job—or jobs—don’t allow for such a long break in the middle of the day.

Another thing: I went to vote on a day with a mild temperature. What about people whose only opportunity to vote might be on a rainy or cold day? In the queue I waited in, 90% of the time was spent outdoors.

I feel only disdain for efforts to suppress voting in the state where I now reside, but only admiration for voters’ determination not to let their will be suppressed.

Democracy is being saved by the sheer willpower of people who are scaling a mountain that should never have been placed before them.

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