A Republican lawmaker in Georgia has sparked outrage by suggesting he opposes new Sunday voting hours because they’ll primarily benefit African-Americans—then explaining that he simply “would prefer more educated voters.”
But take away the overt racism, and state Rep. Fran Millar was only giving the official Republican position on the issue.
After a visit to Atlanta by Michelle Obama to register black voters in advance of Georgia's closely-fought U.S. Senate race, Millar took to Facebook to criticize a county official for green-lighting Sunday voting at a local mall.
"Michelle Obama comes to town and Chicago politics comes to DeKalb," Millar wrote. “Per Jim Galloway of the [Atlanta Journal Constitution], this location is dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist."
He added: “Is it possible church buses will be used to transport people directly to the mall since the poll will open when the mall opens? If this happens, so much for the accepted principle of separation of church and state.”
After some angry responses, Millar tried to explain himself. “I never claimed to be non-partisan,” he wrote. “I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters.”
In a phone interview, Millar told msnbc that his problem is with putting selective early voting sites in Democratic areas. “They’re trying to gin up the vote, get it out there for the Dem candidate,” he said. “It’s a political ploy.”
And he said he was “irritated” by comments on Facebook calling him a racist.
“I’m sitting here as a Republican who actually has an award from the NAACP, the Thurgood Marshall Award,” Millar said. “Trying to place the race card on me is ludicrous.”
As for the idea that it’s more important to have more educated voters rather than simply more voters, Millar said: “That’s just my opinion—that’s all that is. That doesn’t make it racist.”
In fact, it’s also something close to the official Republican line on early voting—which, as Millar and his party understand, is used disproportionately by minority voters.
Earlier this year, a bipartisan panel of experts appointed by President Obama in response to the massive lines on Election Day 2012 released a report on how to make the voting process more efficient. Among its recommendations: expanded early voting.
The idea was a non-starter for the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA), the leading organization of GOP election lawyers—for reasons that Millar would agree with. “Part of the voting process requires a voter to educate himself or herself on the issues facing the community, state or country,” the group wrote in a report. “When a voter in an early voting state casts his or her ballot weeks before Election Day, they’re putting convenience over thoughtful deliberation.”
It’s not just the RNLA.
“Early voting means stubborn voters will make uninformed decisions prematurely,” Christian Adams, a former Bush Justice Department lawyer and a supporter of restrictive voting laws, wrote in response to the Obama panel's report. “Voting even one week early produces less-informed voters and dumbs down the electorate.”
The Washington Post columnist George Will, a key shaper of conservative opinion, has called early voting “deplorable.”
“Instead of a community deliberation culminating in a shared day of decision, an election like the one here is diffuse and inferior,” Will wrote last year in reference to a Florida special election that allowed early voting.
As the election law scholar Rick Hasen has argued, this isn’t only about raw partisanship.
"Conservatives see voting as about choosing the 'best' candidate or 'best' policies (meaning limits on who can vote, when, and how might make the most sense), and liberals see it as about the allocation of power among political equals,” Hasen wrote on Slate earlier this year, in a story headlined "The New Conservative Assault on Early Voting." “Cutting back on early voting fits with the conservative idea of choosing the 'best' candidate by restraining voters from making supposed rash decisions, rather than relying on them to make choices consistent with their interests.”
But that shouldn’t obscure the basic reality: When Millar says having more educated voters is preferable to having more numerous voters, he’s only toeing the party line.