After winning Georgia’s Senate runoff election Tuesday, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) issued a prebuttal to a line that Democrats and progressives in the state knew was coming.
“There will be those both in our state and across the country who will point to our victory tonight and try to use it to argue there is no voter suppression in Georgia,” he said in his speech.
“Let me be clear: The fact that millions of Georgians endured hours in lines, and were willing to spend hours in line — lines that wrapped around buildings and went on for blocks, lines in the cold, lines in the rain — is most certainly not a sign voter suppression does not exist.”
In the wake of the contest, organizers in Georgia anticipated the likely response from local officials and national conservatives: Since Warnock had won and turnout was sky-high, they’d say, claims that the state is working to suppress Black voters must be overblown.
On Wednesday morning, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) went on CNN to make that exact argument, saying also that low wait times meant people were free to cast ballots.
“There’s no truth to voter suppression,” he said, adding that the average person waited just two minutes to vote. “People were moving through even though we had 1.6 million people show up.”
But on a conference call with reporters a few hours later, local organizers were prepared with a bevy of anecdotes about hours-long lines, missing mail ballots and voter confusion to show how Georgia’s Senate Bill 202 — legislation backed by Raffensperger and signed by GOP Gov. Brian Kemp in the spring of 2021, despite howls of protest — had managed to suppress the vote.
Hillary Holley, the executive director of the nonprofit Care in Action, related the story of a voter who is stationed at a military base in Japan. The vote-by-mail deadline was tight enough that he had to pay $100 to ship his ballot back to the U.S. on time. Another organizer said they paid hundreds of dollars to fly their daughter back from college in Boston after her mail ballot never arrived.
Throughout the early voting period, vote centers in the large counties containing and surrounding Atlanta — where the overwhelming majority of the state’s Democratic voters are located — regularly saw people waiting in line for two hours or more. And in many of the state’s rural counties, the hours for early voting were wildly inconsistent, with many not offering weekday early voting outside of standard 9-to-5 work hours.
Moreover, Raffensperger’s office backed efforts to bar early voting from taking place the Saturday after Thanksgiving — a push ultimately blocked by the state’s Supreme Court after national and local Democrats sued.
In his victory speech, Warnock described the proposed restrictions as an egregious attempt to limit voting.
“When officials in our state tried to block Saturday voting, we sued them, and we won,” he said. “And the people showed up in record numbers within the narrow confines of the time given to them by a state legislature that saw our electoral strength the last time [in the 2020 general election] and went after it with surgical precision.”
Warnock added, “The fact that voters worked so hard to overcome the hardship put in front of them does not eliminate the fact that hardship was put there in the first place.”
Kendra Davenport Cotton, the CEO of the nonprofit New Georgia Project, argued the purpose of SB 202 and other modern-day voter suppression efforts was not to “disenfranchise the masses,” but to discourage enough voters to give the GOP an advantage.
“This is a game of margins,” she told reporters. “[Now-President] Joe Biden won this state by a little less than 12,000 votes. I guarantee you there are more than 12,000 people across this state who were eligible and wanted to vote in this election who could not.”
She noted that under SB 202, the final chance to register to vote is 30 days before an election. At the same time, it mandates a runoff election be held no more than 28 days after the first round of voting — meaning no voter registration can take place during a runoff election period.
“That in itself is voter suppression,” Davenport Cotton said.
Holley predicted Republicans in the state would be back with another effort to tighten voter laws after Warnock’s victory, even though every other statewide Republican won fairly easily.
“The takeaway for Republicans in 2022 was ‘Oh snap, the original Jim Crow voter suppression, the runoff, it’s no longer working,’” she said, referring to the racist origins of Georgia’s runoff law. “‘The Jim Crow 2.0 law that we passed, SB 202, that wasn’t strong enough.’ They’re going to pass more attacks on our right to vote.”