You don’t throw away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you’re not getting wet.
The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg shared that obvious piece of wisdom in a dissenting opinion in a 2013 case called Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, the Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and its 2006 reauthorization. That law had required certain states to obtain preclearance from federal authorities before changing their voting laws. Congress had imposed this requirement on certain states, such as Georgia, with a history of racial discrimination against voters. The purpose of the approval requirement was to demonstrate that the change did not deny or abridge the right to vote based on race. Justice Ginsburg’s dissent warned that this law remained necessary to “guard against backsliding” and she illustrated this point with her famous umbrella analogy.
Right now in Georgia, it’s not just raining, it’s pouring, and there’s no umbrella to be found. Last week, the Georgia legislature enacted new restrictions on voting that critics say will reduce voter turnout, with a disproportionate impact on Black voters. New provisions include, among other things, limiting the number of ballot drop boxes, restricting the use of provisional ballots, banning mobile voting, requiring a photocopy of identification documents to accompany mail-in ballots, and making it a crime to provide food or water to voters waiting in line. Drop boxes and mobile voting have been heavily used in Fulton County, a majority-Black county that is also the state’s most populous. President Joe Biden said that the new legislation “makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.” OK, maybe that analogy lacks the eloquence of Justice Ginsburg’s umbrella line, but you get the point — this is a serious act of discrimination against Black voters.
These laws come in the wake of a blue wave in Georgia. Biden won the state in the November presidential election, and a January runoff resulted in the election of two Democratic senators, one Black and one Jewish, bringing to 50 the total number of Democrats in the U.S. Senate. With Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties, the election results in Georgia gave Democrats the Senate majority. A recent Saturday Night Live episode explored the phenomenon of a Georgia that is becoming more liberal. In a skit called “Blue Georgia,” a woke white diner waitress identified herself with her preferred gender pronouns, “she/ma’am.”
Apparently, it is all just too much for Georgia Republicans. Without preclearance rules to check them, the Republican-controlled legislature and governor have responded to these election results with new voting restrictions.
Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, said the laws were needed to make it “harder to cheat.” But despite unfounded allegations by former President Donald Trump, there has been no evidence of voter fraud in Georgia. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, has denied Trump’s claims and attested to the legitimacy of the 2020 election following a hand recount. He called claims of election fraud in Georgia “disinformation.”
The real reason for laws that suppress voting, of course, is to favor the party that enacts them. In a moment of remarkable candor, an attorney defending a voting restriction in Arizona recently told the U.S. Supreme Court that the law was necessary because otherwise the Republican Party would be “at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.” “Politics,” he explained, “is a zero-sum game. Every extra vote they get . . . hurts us. … It’s the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election 51 to 50.” In other words, he supports laws that help his party win. But, of course, laws designed to favor one party over another are the antithesis of democracy.
Without the federal preclearance law to prevent it, we can expect to see more states follow suit and take advantage of voters without umbrellas. What, then, can be done to combat voter suppression? Lawsuits can be filed after the fact. On Thursday, election lawyer (and former guest of Stay Tuned with Preet) Marc Elias filed a lawsuit challenging the new restrictions, alleging that the limits “serve no legitimate purpose or compelling state interest other than to make absentee, early, and election-day voting more difficult — especially for minority voters.” And federal legislation has been proposed in Congress to protect voting rights.
But perhaps a more powerful force could serve as a deterrent for Georgia and other states that are considering similar legislation — money.
Georgia benefits from housing some of our nation’s largest and most influential corporations. Coca-Cola, CNN, Home Depot, UPS and Delta Airlines all call Georgia home. Imagine if they threatened to relocate rather than support a state that discriminates against voters. Consumers could help provide these companies with an incentive by boycotting their products and taking their business elsewhere unless the companies leave Georgia. Here’s the reality: money talks.
The lucrative world of sports can also provide important incentives. As the organizers of Georgia’s storied golf tournament, the Masters, learned some years ago, corporate sponsors can apply pressure to force changes to rules, like the one the Augusta National Golf Club had prohibiting women members. The club admitted its first women members in 2012 in response to pressure after IBM, one of its major corporate sponsors, hired its first female CEO. In 1993, the NFL moved the Super Bowl out of Arizona because the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, ten years after it had become a federal holiday. In 2016, the NCAA disqualified North Carolina from hosting major sporting events after it passed a discriminatory bill that prevented transgender people from using public restrooms that matched their gender identity. Hosting privileges were restored when the state repealed the law. Recently, South Dakota’s Republican Gov. Kristi Noem vetoed a bill prohibiting transgender girls and women from competing on sports teams because she feared reprisal from the NCAA.
With the Masters set for April in Augusta, and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game scheduled for July in Atlanta, now is the time for sports leagues, corporations and consumers to use their financial leverage to push for more equitable voting laws in Georgia. Taking a strong stand now may prevent ripple effects across the country that erode voting rights and drown democracy.
Maybe there is no umbrella, but a golf club or a baseball bat might just do the trick.