In a one-two punch of authoritarian maneuvering shocking in both its scope and its severity, Republicans are fighting to hollow out the right to vote for millions of Black and brown Georgians. And what they can’t take away in the state Senate, the GOP plans to gut with a new Trump-aligned secretary of state.
With MAGA Congressman Jody Hice now fighting to unseat noted Trump enemy and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Republicans are making clear there is no room in the party for officials willing to stand up against Trumpian authoritarianism.
The raft of brutal voter-suppression laws winding their way through Georgia’s state legislature offers just a taste of the future Republicans hope to inflict on citizens they see as left-leaning, before those citizens succeed in removing them from power. Passing the federal voting-rights protections in House Democrats’ For the People Act won’t be enough to stop these Republicans: Democrats must finally get serious about nationalizing Stacey Abrams’ winning organizing model.
Voter-suppression efforts in Georgia reached a smolder even before Trump tossed gasoline on the situation with his gleeful endorsement of Hice’s primary challenge. In the state Senate, a conservative Republican unfortunately named Max Burns is leading efforts to give state officials more direct power over election eligibility, something Trump’s acolytes demanded after realizing Black citizens could register to vote too easily for comfort.
In response to those Black citizens registering and voting, Georgia’s Republicans are clamping down. The state GOP targeted Black churches responsible for leading voter-registration drives and organizing transportation to the polls with a proposed law that would make it a crime to conduct those activities on a Sunday. “Souls to the Polls” is an indelible part of life in the Black South, a means of strengthening community through the proud and public exercise of hard-won and still imperfectly guaranteed voting rights.
Targeting Black church activism does so much more than simply hobble efforts to register voters and cast ballots. It sends a message from the white Republican establishment that Black spaces, Black communities, and Black identities exist only to the extent Georgia’s GOP power brokers allow them to exist.
“This bill continues to be nothing but voter suppression,” Black Voters Matter Fund co-founder Cliff Albright said. “The recent changes are nothing more than... makeup and cologne on Jim Crow.”
It’s a statement of just how dangerously authoritarian the national GOP has become that Raffensperger, who supports these voter-suppression measures, is still not reliably authoritarian enough to please Trump’s MAGA mob. Raffensperger doesn’t just approve of crushing Souls to the Polls; he proudly attached his endorsement to measures ending automatic voter registration, banning mail-in ballot drop boxes, effectively ending absentee voting, and sharply reducing hours available for weekend voting.
Each and every one of those measures was designed specifically to punish Black Georgians for daring to face down voter suppression in 2020, with efforts like the ban on mail-in ballot drop boxes almost exclusively harming communities of color where those drop boxes exist. But even that wasn’t enough, because Raffensperger refused to support the GOP’s lockstep belief in the Big Lie of a stolen presidential election.
Hice promises red meat to a far-right crowd hungry not just for victory but for revenge—against Blacks, against liberals, against anyone Hice and Trump declare enemies of their fascist fantasies. Hice has savaged Raffensperger in the past for his disloyalty to Trump, and cheered the January 6 insurrection as “our 1776 moment.”
More importantly, Hice cloaks the desire to disenfranchise Black Georgians in the language of the MAGA crowd at a time when Trump’s followers have already proven willing to engage in organized antidemocratic violence. That kind of extrajudicial intimidation is nothing new to Black voters in the South, but Democrats have the power to put a stop to this newest round of preventable state brutality.
Passing the For the People Act is a key step in fighting back against the coming deluge of Republican voter-suppression efforts, but even those meaty voting-rights protections won’t fully protect Georgians—or anyone else—from the havoc GOP supermajorities can unleash on the state level. Only state organizing can stop that danger, and the Democratic Party has spent the past dozen years woefully underinvesting in critical state infrastructure.
Fortunately, Democrats also have an ace up their sleeve: Stacey Abrams, the voting-rights organizer and current candidate for governor who stunned the world by mobilizing Black voters to shatter what many party insiders had written off as the GOP’s unbeatable structural advantages in Georgia. Abrams’ organizing model offers a powerful case study in why there is simply no substitute for local organizing, and why victories like Georgia take years of cultivation and care before bearing fruit. The time to fund those grassroots efforts is now, not in the heat of the 2022 campaign season.
Opening up the Democratic National Committee’s coffers to emulating the Abrams model across the country also offers hope for more immediate fights against voter suppression. In Georgia, the same voting-rights activists brought into the political arena and energized by Abrams’ message have successfully pressured major Georgia employers like Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola to condemn the GOP’s voter-suppression efforts.
What happens in Georgia will provide Trumpist Republicans with the clearest measure yet of their strength. The rise of Trump’s hand-picked candidate for secretary of state would be disastrous for the state, but Raffensperger’s victory would be little better for the Black and brown voters targeted by laws designed to criminalize the very expression of Black civic engagement.
The only way to protect the right to vote is to organize and elect public officials who respect and honor that fundamental right. The GOP has made clear in over 165 restrictive voting bills introduced nationwide that it is declaring war on the rights of minorities to exercise their right to vote. Without immediate efforts nationally and in the states to counter that authoritarian threat, the suppression of Georgia will be only the first grim milestone in our slide away from democracy.