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BERNARD COLUMN: Georgia Election Law (SB 202)- what do voters think?

By Jack Bernard
Bernard is a retired corporate executive

Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is that you have bad data. Our data shows that you did not win the race.”- Brad Raffensperger, GA SOS

There have been a multitude of reports and articles written which confirm that Georgia’s 2020 election was one of the best in the history of the state. Our secretary of state, Trump supporter and lifelong Republican Brad Raffensberger, clearly thought so. So did the governor. Therefore, some moderates and progressives were taken aback by the rapidity in which Georgia’s General Assembly and governor changed its election laws to appease Trump and his followers. The answer lies in the details.

The SPIA is the University of Georgia’s polling unit. It polled residents to see what they thought of the new law (SB 202) and issued a report on 4-20-21. The results are illustrative of the divisions plaguing our democracy.

The SPIA found that whites, conservative and Republicans did not believe that it was a fair and honest election or that Biden won. For example, 71% of GOP voters surveyed believe Biden won through fraud. So, it is relatively easy to see why these same groups supported voter suppression disguised as reforms to ensure election security.

Only 44% of voters thought that it was more important to make voting easier rather than to battle potential voting fraud. Among whites, the figure supporting easing voting was much lower (29%), less than half the percentage for blacks (67%). Likewise, conservatives were at 14% and Republicans even lower at a dismal 5%. Liberals were at 81% and Democrats at 80%.

Consistent with their ideology and beliefs in the honesty of the 2020 election, these same GOP base voters supported “changing the state’s election system.” Overall, 82% of GOP voters thought the recent changes to Georgia’s election law increased their confidence in the system, as did 75% of conservatives. Conversely, only 17% of Democrats and 16% of liberals agreed. Whites were in favor (61% support) versus only a small minority of blacks (28%).

Various groups felt differently about individual items in the new law, for example:

-Requiring IDs for mail-in voting. Republicans approved by 93% to 35% for Democrats. Conservative support was at 86% while liberals were at 27%. It was supported by 76% of whites, but only 41% of blacks. 

-Placing additional restrictions on ballot box locations — Republicans approved by 73% versus Democrats 35%. Only 43% of blacks supported it as opposed to 61% of whites. Conservatives agreed (71%) as opposed to only 27% liberals.

-Election officials mailing unsolicited absentee ballots to registered voters: Conservatives and Republicans were strongly supportive (74% and 77% respectively), as were whites at 64%. Liberals (25%) and blacks (33%) were suspicious and were against it, quite possibly due to fears of unequal treatment by county election officials.

-Allowing the state to take over underperforming county election operations: Both white (41%) and black (19%) groups were not very supportive of this power grab by the state. But 50% of Republicans and 46% of conservatives supported it, versus only 35% and 40% opposing it.

Probably the most interesting question asked was about the motivation behind the bill. Two-thirds of whites said it was for election security, but 76% of blacks said it was to reduce voting for targeted groups. Conservatives and GOP members were even more positive about the motives, with 79% and 89% indicating voter fraud. On the other hand, 87% of Democrats and 86 % of liberals believed the motivation to be voter suppression.

Related to this issue was a question as to whether or not the respondent felt that the law would make it harder to cast a ballot. Two thirds of whites said no, as opposed to only 17% of blacks. Republicans and conservatives thought not, 85% and 78%. But only 12% of liberals and 13% of Democrats felt that it would not reduce voting.

The impact of the new law will be seen in future years. In the meantime, only one thing is certain. Our electorate is composed of groups which are totally at odds with one another, the worst division in memory.