Of all the hundreds of voting suppression bills popping up across the country right now, one of the most nefarious is Georgia’s recently passed law that, among other things, makes it a misdemeanor to give water to voters waiting in line. Language was added to an existing law banning voter gifts that defines water as a gift, and thus a crime, no matter the circumstances or how long that voter stood in line. When I first heard this on CNN, I surely thought that was hyperbole or taken out of context. But no, it is completely true.
Election Day lines in Georgia are primarily found in Black and brown neighborhoods, where voters of color are expected to wait for more than 10 hours. This is by design: In Georgia, unlike other states, even if voters were standing in line all day, if they don’t make it inside by closing time, they aren’t allowed to vote using a regular ballot. Those voters get a provisional ballot; it most likely won’t be counted. The new law also allows voter intimidation, and penalizes those who show up at the wrong precinct. That’s bad enough. But please tell me how giving someone who is standing in line all day a bottle of water has anything to do with voter fraud??
The answer: absolutely nothing. Neither do the other 253 proposed voter suppression laws in 43 states which are flying through GOP-controlled legislatures. It’s not about fraud, of course, just stopping people of color, primarily Black people, from voting.
I’m so damn angry, I’ve planned a trip to Georgia next year to see my friend in Atlanta. He always hands out water to people in long voting lines, and said he’s not stopping. I’ve decided to join him. It’s now a crime, but we are doing it anyway. We don’t care. But that’s next year. In the meantime, there are other ways to fight this avalanche of voter suppression that may not involve handcuffs.
Let’s make one thing clear. Donald Trump lost the election—bigly. Because he’s a narcissist who can never admit fault, he couldn’t accept defeat and lied about it, claiming widespread voter fraud was to blame. He’s actually followed this script in every election he’s ever lost. In the 2016 Iowa caucus, he accused Texas Sen. Ted Cruz of winning through fraud, and demanded it be nullified. That year, winning the Electoral College wasn’t enough for Trump; he blamed millions of phantom immigrants for his loss of the popular vote, with an excuse for just about every state he lost. In New Hampshire, he made a most ridiculous claim to explain away his loss: Massachusetts residents traveled to New Hampshire to vote against him. Famously, the former guy still insists that the freaking Emmys were rigged against his awful reality show.
While the rest of the nation has moved on, state Republicans are still pushing the “Big Lie” that Trump, a guy who never got close to 50% approval, lost in 2020 because of voter fraud, as opposed to the will of a very disgusted electorate. These Republicans blame election fraud despite the fact that, if the Big Lie were true, every one of their seats would have been won through fraud as well. Yet not one Republican state legislator in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, or Georgia refused to be seated because of their false claim that their own state elections were fraudulent. Shocking.
Rather than surrender their supposedly ill-gotten seats, Republicans across the nation are instead using the Big Lie to justify all sorts of voter suppression tactics: eliminating vote-by-mail, abolishing drop boxes, cutting early and Election Day in-person voting hours, banning voting on Sundays (to stop Souls to the Polls events at Black churches), new restrictions on voter registration, narrowing eligibility for absentee voting, and anything else they can think of to create well-dressed obstacles to keep certain segments of the population from voting.
Even in states Trump won, the GOP is using election fraud as a pretext to suppress votes from marginalized communities. It’s disgraceful, and it’s an uphill fight, but that doesn’t mean we roll over.
There are ways to fight back, so let’s go.
Protect the vote: Target the companies giving these politicians money
In January, Republicans in Congress faced an unprecedented backlash from industry after disingenuously trying to overthrow the election. After the GOP’s Sedition Caucus attempted to thwart democracy post-insurrection, companies raced to disassociate. Announcements—from Amazon, General Electric Co, Dow, Comcast Corp, Verizon Communications, American Express Co, Airbnb, Best Buy and Mastercard, among others—promised the traitors’ campaigns would no longer receive their money. It was a victory, although several, like Intel, AT&T, and Cigna, have already broken their promises.
Politicians don’t exist in a vacuum. If people are angry enough, corporate donors respond. This backlash needs to be happening, targeting all of these voter suppression bills at the state level. Thankfully, activists are already turning up the pressure on companies.
Coca-Cola runs a campaign every year during Black History Month, touting all the company does for the Black community. Yet this past month, Coke simultaneously supported the very bills that were targeting Black churches and creating more obstacles for people to vote. This was particularly galling, considering they had the audacity to run ads like this one during election season.
Enough. Companies can no longer have it both ways.
Coca-Cola, based in Atlanta, soon found itself trending on social media after it was revealed that the soda giant, among several others, supported the Republicans behind the pile of new voter suppression bills in Georgia.
In the face of the pressure campaign, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola had the gall to justify the Georgia GOP’s voting suppression bills, saying “We support efforts by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce to help facilitate a balanced approach to the elections bills that have been introduced in the Georgia Legislature this session.“
You can’t target African American consumers with marketing thinly masked as empty rhetoric, while simultaneously stabbing them in the back. Again, it wasn’t just Coca-Cola. Lots of companies contributed to co-sponsors of these voter suppression bills.
Again, the backlash has been intense, and continues as of this writing. Some companies, like SalesForce, have taken a firm stance standing up against Black voter suppression, yet Coke wouldn’t even comment. I find this particularly infuriating since their CEO, James Quincey, put out a video and a feature on the Coca-Cola website that claimed Coke was an ally on social justice issues after the murder of George Floyd.
The outrage needs to occur not just with the politicians attacking Black voters, but the companies that are funding them. There needs to be a threat to their bottom line, along with the understanding that there is no profit in suppressing BIPOC votes. The decades-long practice of paying lip service but supporting politicians who want to turn back the clock on voting rights is coming to an end.
Protect the vote: Join voting rights groups
It doesn’t seem that long ago that voting groups were primarily dedicated to registering new voters and getting out the vote. Sadly, with the new breed of conservative fascists literally trying to repeal the gains made by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, groups are now focused on preserving their hard-fought freedoms. To combat the white supremacist attacks on voting, we need all hands on deck.
Groups in Georgia have been going nonstop to fight the wave of new Jim Crow laws. Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project Action Fund, and the Georgia NAACP have been relentlessly in utilizing local press and social media in getting supporters to directly contact politicians, as well as executives with major Georgia-based corporations.
The fight is extending to states across the country, and voting rights groups and PACs are dedicated to fighting this out at the state level, where these attacks are occurring.
The Democratic state parties are primarily focused on getting out the vote during election season. I’m not suggesting that isn’t important, but people like Stacey Abrams felt they needed to start their own group to fight suppression, engage year-round with the community, and identify new voters needed to overcome the voter suppression tactics of the GOP. Abrams worked hand-in-hand with the Democratic Party, but she saw a need that wasn’t filled and filled it. Voting groups don’t replace the Party, but the Party needs them, and now—especially now—they need you.
Georgia is turning back the clock on voting rights because Abrams’ Fair Fight Action was so wildly successful in 2020. Here in Florida, I just joined Pam Keith’s Fight For Florida’s Future. Again, the Florida Democratic Party is primarily focused on GOTV, with little to no plan for voter engagement during the off-season. Keith said our party has little data for candidates outside of voting lists, which they must pay for, whereas the Florida GOP has built a massive machine which gives candidates everything they need to identify potential voters (polling data, focus group data, church affiliation, and more).
Keith is building a grassroots organization to compile data needed for successful campaigns, and to identify new voters, reach out to them, and register them—year-round. For example, Florida Democrats cheered when voters restored voting rights for hundreds of thousands of prior felons who served their time, but without a way to reach out to them, only a handful actually registered. We have to build the infrastructure if we are going to win in Florida (and everywhere). Remember: Florida has more Democrats than Republicans, but you would never know it looking at our elections.
The Sunshine State is going to be the next big battleground after Georgia, and we are going to need all the help we can get.
The suppression effort is happing across the nation, and there are organizations fighting back in every state. Find yours and please join!
Protect the vote: Tweak the Filibuster
There have been numerous exemptions granted to the filibuster the past few decades, including the judicial appointment exception, the Cabinet appointment exception, and the budget reconciliation exception. All are grounded in the idea that constitutionally-prescribed responsibilities can’t be thwarted by minority opposition. However, one fundamental principle of our Constitution is missing: the right to protect democracy.
An exemption to the filibuster must be added to include bills to protect the right to vote.
The elections clause of the Constitution allows Congress—and only Congress—to set the time, place and manner of elections at a federal level. This is undeniable, which is why bills protecting the right to vote should not ever be subjected to the filibuster. Even if this is the only added exception to the filibuster this cycle, I will be very happy, because that change alone would allow passage of two extremely important reform bills.
Both bills have already been passed by House Democrats.
The For the People Act (HR 1) is perhaps the single most important piece of legislation that could save our democracy. The Republicans strongly oppose this because voter suppression is their primary tool for winning elections. If Democrats achieve nothing else with their majority, they need to pass this bill. This bill:
Requires states to offer same-day voting registration
Permits voters to make changes to their registration at the polls
Establishes automatic voter registration
Requires states to hold early voting
Makes Election Day a federal holiday
Establishes criminal penalties for those who engage in voter deception and intimidation
Sets standards for voter roll purging
Requires voting machines be manufactured in US
Requires a verifiable paper trail for ballots
Requires dark money organizations to disclose their donors
Requires states to use independent commissions to draw Congressional district lines
… and more.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of our nation’s most fundamental civil rights achievements; it effectively ended Jim Crow voter suppression tactics in states targeting Black and other voters of color. However, the conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted the law in 2013. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act—including requiring states that consistently engage in voting suppression tactics to pre-clear voting laws with the federal government.
We can’t get rid of the filibuster this cycle, thanks to Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but we can tweak it. After all, Mitch McConnell had no trouble getting rid of the 60-vote threshold for ramming through Supreme Court Justices. McConnell loves the filibuster because it allows him to kill popular legislation with no backlash. He is desperate to keep it, but has nothing to threaten Democrats with, while Democrats would pay absolutely no political price for curtailing or even eliminating the filibuster.
The consequences of not tweaking the filibuster, however, are too great. Republicans in state legislatures are already openly debating whether or not to abolish democracy. Consider Arizona’s bill that would let Republican politicians override the will of the people if a Democrat is elected, and bar judges from throwing out election challenges due to lack of evidence. The bill that just became law in Georgia grants partisan state legislators extraordinarily broad powers over non-partisan local election officials—to help ensure a Republican victory. It also allows any right-wing nut in Georgia the right to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters.
Republicans are trying to make it so that even if we win, we lose. When Republicans now lose, they will just change it with a Sharpie.
Republicans are getting bolder and bolder in taking away people’s right to choose their own representatives. Without these reforms, they will get far worse. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if poll taxes or literacy tests make a return. There would be absolutely nothing stopping them, especially with Trump’s Supreme Court.
Lyndon Johnson grabbed arms, threatened, bribed, and cajoled reluctant lawmakers into passing the original Voting Rights Act. Biden needs to learn from this. If there was ever a reason for him to twist arms, it’s to remove the filibuster obstacle on voting rights.
Talk with Sen. Sinema. She can’t be okay with giving Republicans the power to overthrow popular elections back home in Arizona, could she? Give her what she wants, and if that doesn’t work, let her know the consequences—then follow through. Manchin, too. This is too damn important.
There is a very small window for Democrats to take action. If we don’t, Republicans will do everything they can to prevent voting for segments of the population they don’t like, and overturn results that they won’t accept. Try to imagine what would have happened on Jan. 6 if the Republicans had control of the House and it was Speaker Kevin McCarthy instead of Nancy Pelosi. Republicans know that the speaker becomes acting president during a dispute, and I guarantee that played into many of their calculations when deciding to join the insurrection.
Again: Republicans are floating (and passing) bills that overturn the will of the people in states they control. We are witnessing an avalanche of voter suppression, and it’s only getting worse.
Conservative legislators will try to criminalize voting by communities of color, just like they did decades ago. In Georgia, they already arrested a Black legislator because she dared to try to witness the governor signing the bill into law. In Georgia, by the way, the state Constitution says legislators are “free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly.”
Democrats have power at the federal level, but they will lose it if this suppressive coup is allowed to stand. We only have one shot at this before the GOP gerrymanders the hell out of the country in 2022, so Senate Democrats better take it.
Otherwise, it will make my potential arrest next fall for handing out water seem quaint.
Thank you for all of your suggestions on giving away water without getting arrested. I heard people suggest offering it to them before they get in line, selling it for a penny, or walking up and down with a sign that says I can’t give you water, but if you take it I can’t stop you. I promise you this: 1) I will get water to these people somehow, even if it means arrest and 2) no one is NOT going to vote because of this law, but thousands of people WILL vote because of this law. This is so blatantly racist that the GOP has awoken a sleeping giant.
In the meantime, I am boycotting Coke and every other company that is not fully supporting voting rights, and I urge you to do the same. Let them know why.
And one last time, please join a voting rights group in your state. It’s going to get worse before it gets better.