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Why one part of the Georgia Republicans' anti-voting law stands out

It's tough to defend Republicans making it illegal to give water to voters waiting in long lines, but it's not the worst part of Georgia's new law.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference in downtown Atlanta on April 1, 2020.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a news conference in downtown Atlanta on April 1, 2020.Alyssa Pointer / Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP file

A day after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed sweeping new voting restrictions into law, President Joe Biden condemned the attack on voting rights as "outrageous," "un-American," "Jim Crow in the 21st Century," an "atrocity," and "a blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience."

One element of the new Georgia law, however, stood out for the president.

"If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency -- they passed a law saying you can't provide water for people standing in line while they're waiting to vote," Biden told reporters. "You don't need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive design to keep people from voting. You can't provide water for people about to vote? Give me a break."

To be sure, the list of offensive provisions in Georgia's anti-voting law is not short. As we discussed last week, GOP policymakers have made it harder to cast ballots through drop boxes, while simultaneously making it more difficult to cast absentee ballots. But as a simple matter of human decency, the fact that Republicans made it illegal to bring water to voters forced to wait in long lines -- lines that will now be even worse as a result of the GOP's new election laws -- is awfully tough to defend.

Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), appearing on Fox News yesterday, said this element of the new law "doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me."

Georgia Republicans created a mess by including this provision amidst their new voting restrictions, and as a political matter, it makes a lot of sense for opponents to focus attention on this since it's the sort of provision that the public at large is likely to find offensive.

But in terms of practical and electoral consequences, the Washington Post reported over the weekend on an even more pernicious part of the new Georgia law.

The new law removes the secretary of state from serving as chair of the State Board of Elections, giving the legislature the authority to appoint a majority of the members, and authorizes the state board to suspend local election officials.... Separately, the new power to suspend county election boards could give state officials unprecedented influence over all manner of election decisions, including the acceptance and rejection of mail ballots, early-voting hours, poll-worker hiring and the number of polling locations, critics say.

Up until last week, the GOP-led state legislature had very little to do with the administration of Georgia elections. The new law dramatically shuffles the deck when it comes to power.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), who famously did the right thing in the face of unjust (and potentially illegal) pressure, has been largely stripped of his authority over state elections. The state board of elections will be led by a legislature-approved chair, who will lead a panel in which most of the members are chosen by Republican legislators -- the same legislators who sided with Donald Trump during his efforts to overturn his defeat in the state.

What's more, while most election-management decisions have been made by county election boards, the new Georgia law "fixes" that, too: the newly revamped state board of elections will oversee county boards, complete with the authority to shift power away from local board members.

A Vox explainer added, "The state board, which now will be fully controlled by the Republican legislative majority, is unilaterally empowered to take over (among other things) the process of disqualifying ballots across the state. Given that Georgia Republicans have helped promote false allegations of voter fraud, it's easy to see why handing them so much power over local election authorities is so worrying."

Lauren Groh-Wargo, executive director of Atlanta-based Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams, told reporters last week, "It will make what we all lived through in 2020 child's play. Donald Trump won't have to strong-arm our election administrators. The most radical fringes of the Republican Party sitting in the state legislature will be able to wipe out boards of elections."

As Republicans in other states pursue similar tactics, it hardly seems ridiculous to worry about a scenario in which Americans, as early 2024, see a Democratic presidential ticket legitimately win a state, only to have that state refuse to certify the proper results.

And what happens if such a scenario happens? I honestly don't know, but it's a nightmare the country would be wise to try to avoid.

Yes, obviously this is more complicated than "Republicans don't want voters waiting in long lines to get water." But as needlessly cruel as the so-called "line warming" provision of Georgia's new anti-voting law is, the power grab over the administration of elections is considerably more dangerous to the future of the republic.