Voting rights and election integrity have become significant issues in 2021 as Democrats in Congress attempt to pass a sweeping federal election overhaul bill at the same time as many states pursue election integrity laws.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Democrats, held a hearing on state election integrity laws provocatively titled “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote.”
“Jim Crow” was the shorthand term for a series of laws in Southern states that made it not only nearly impossible for black citizens to vote, but also reinforced a system of segregation.
The Tuesday hearing included statements from senators and witnesses that have become common misconceptions regarding the election integrity law recently enacted in Georgia and others like it under consideration in other states.
Here are fact checks of three of those claims:
1) Can’t Give Water to Voters in Line?
In his opening remarks, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the committee’s chairman, said the Georgia election integrity law makes it “a crime, a crime to offer water to folks waiting in line.”
Durbin wasn’t alone in making that claim. One of the hearing’s witnesses, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counselor of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the Georgia law “criminalizes the provision of water to voters standing in line.”
However, that portrayal of the Georgia law—often echoed by national media outlets—isn’t accurate, or at minimum, distorts what the law actually does.
The Georgia law prohibits campaign workers and ideological activists from giving food or water to voters standing in line to vote. It prevents campaign workers from setting up a booth 150 feet from the polling station in which voting takes place or within 25 feet of a voter.
It does not in any way prohibit voters from bringing their own food and water to a polling location, nor does it prohibit poll workers from providing water.
Here is what the law says:
No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector, nor shall any person solicit signatures for any petition, nor shall any person, other than election officials discharging their duties, establish or set up any tables or booths on any day in which ballots are being cast: (1) Within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; (2) Within any polling place; or (3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.
As my colleague Fred Lucas wrote in a previous fact check of claims about the Georgia law, these practices generally are referred to as the “line-warming loophole,” where activist groups try to influence and pressure voters in the moments before they vote.
Many other states, among them Minnesota, have laws like Georgia’s on the books.
In addition, the law doesn’t prevent poll workers from giving out water to voters standing in line. Again, here is what the Georgia law says:
This Code section shall not be construed to prohibit a poll officer from distributing materials, as required by law, which are necessary for the purpose of instructing electors or from distributing materials prepared by the Secretary of State, which are designed solely for the purpose of encouraging voter participation in the election being conducted or from making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle to an elector waiting in line to vote.
Long lines for voting have been a problem in Georgia, but the Georgia law will add additional voting equipment and poll workers to precincts with more than 2,000 electors.
2) Makes It Tougher to Vote Early, Absentee?
Durbin also said of the Georgia voter law: “It will make it harder for Georgians to vote early, or to vote by absentee ballot.”
That has been a common criticism of the Georgia law, but again, it is made without context. The law requires voters to provide a voter ID the first time they opt for absentee voting and requires them to request an absentee ballot no later than 11 days before an election, rather than no later than the Friday before the election, as was the case before the new law passed.
The new law actually makes it easier to submit absentee ballots, which can now be submitted online before the election deadline.
The Georgia law also generally makes it easier to vote in person earlier, adding early voting on two Saturdays and a Sunday before elections.
3) Suppresses Vote With ID Requirement?
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called election integrity laws a “wave of suppression laws,” echoing a common charge against Georgia’s law and others like it.
Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who lost the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia, testified at the hearing that there has been “a resurgence of Jim Crow-style suppression measures” sweeping across state legislatures.
Among the measures Abrams later went on to describe were Georgia’s “restrictive voter-ID requirements that will have an amplified effect on disabled voters, older voters, voters of color, and black Georgians in particular.”
However, as an extensive 2018 National Bureau of Economic Research study found, evidence suggests that voter ID laws “have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation.”
Even the left-wing media outlet Vox acknowledged that the data indicates that voter ID laws are unlikely to suppress registration or the vote in any way.
It’s also notable that voter ID laws receive considerable support in public polling on the issue and have for years.
According to a 2016 Gallup poll, 80% of Americans favored the practice of requiring the showing of an ID to vote, while only 19% opposed the idea.
A Washington Examiner report noted that “according to various polls since 2006, over 75% of people support showing a photo identification in order to cast a ballot. This includes the support of 69% of black voters. However, despite the support, Democrats argue the election provision is a form of voter suppression.”
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