From November 2020 to January 2021, the story of the state of Georgia was pro-Democratic: Democratic candidates for president and the U.S. Senate all won. But more importantly, it was pro-democratic. Joe Biden, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won in part because of aggressive efforts by grassroots groups in the state to increase the number of people who voted compared with past Georgia elections. Two of the state’s top Republican elected officials, Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, rejected a major push from then-President Trump and other Republicans to effectively overturn the results of the state’s presidential election because Biden had won. The events in Georgia, along with a similar rejection of Trump’s false fraud claims in Arizona by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, were perhaps the clearest examples of how America’s democratic systems had held firm and prevented Trump from cheating his way to a second term.
A lot has changed since then.
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Now, Georgia’s democratic stand in 2020 looks more like a temporary victory in a broader fight over American democracy that remains very much contested. On Thursday, Kemp signed a major election law pushed through by Georgia Republicans. Among other things, the law strips some of the power to run Georgia elections from the secretary of state and local counties and transfers it to a state board that is likely to be dominated by conservative Republicans. It includes a ban on providing food and water to people waiting in line to vote. And Kemp justified the new law by suggesting that there were unresolved questions about whether the election in Georgia was conducted fairly.
In short, Trump lost Georgia in 2020. But his narrative about that election — that it was stolen from him — has won among state Republicans and has now effectively been codified in state law.
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Republicans are trying to enact laws making it harder to vote across the country, and it’s not clear that Georgia’s will be among the most aggressive when all of them are finalized. But considering what happened in Georgia from November to January, the enactment of this law in that state is a particularly alarming sign that the Republican Party’s attacks on democratic norms and values are continuing and in some ways accelerating.
Democrats flipped a swing state, and the Republican Party in that state has responded by enacting a law designed to make it harder for Democratic-leaning voters to cast ballots and have them counted. A state from the former Confederacy changed its election laws after a heavily Black coalition of voters played a big role in electing their preferred candidates for president and the U.S. Senate, which included the historic election of an African American senator in the state. A Republican official (Raffensperger) put country over party and was then stripped of some of his authority.
There has already been a lawsuit filed to prevent this Georgia provision from going into effect. And even if the law does take effect, it’s hard to say exactly how this would affect Republican and Democratic electoral prospects in Georgia — it seems clearly designed to make it harder for Democratic-leaning voters to exercise that right, but Democrats might still be able to win. So we don’t know exactly what this law will mean in an electoral sense. But in a democratic sense, there is already one clear result: America is a country with a declining democracy, because it has one major party that increasingly does not respect the results of elections that it loses or the right to vote of people who oppose it.
Put another way: Georgia Republicans didn’t come out of the 2020 elections with a goal of finding new messages or policies to appeal to Georgia’s growing population of people of color. They instead opted to imply that these voters participated in the Georgia elections in improper ways that should be prevented in the future. The Washington Post suggests in its motto that “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” But based on the actions of much of today’s Republican Party, it might be more accurate to say it’s dying right out in the open daylight.