Mississippi’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Roger Wicker, is defending a new Georgia law that political and business leaders across the country are comparing to Jim Crow laws that southern states historically used to disenfranchise Black voters.
Yesterday, Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, whose company is based in Atlanta, told employees in a staff memo that the voting changes “could make it harder for many Georgians, particularly those in our Black and Brown communities, to exercise their right to vote.”
“The entire rationale for the bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections. This is simply not true,” Bastian said. He was referring to former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims that he lost Georgia due to vague alleged malfeasance that he never produced evidence to support.
‘He Should Be Ashamed’
In a tweet yesterday afternoon, Sen. Wicker criticized the Delta executive and defended Georgia’s law, which passed the Georgia state house as S.B. 201, titled, “The Election Integrity Act of 2021.”
“(Delta) Airlines CEO caves to the left with a false narrative about the new Georgia voting law, which actually expands voting opportunities,” Wicker wrote yesterday afternoon. “He should be ashamed of himself.”
In a statement this morning, The Coca Cola Company’s CEO, James Quincey, joined the growing number of business leaders who are explicitly condemning the law, saying his company’s “focus is now on supporting federal legislation that protects voting access and addresses voter suppression across the country.” Coca-Cola is based in Atlanta.
.@CocaCola CEO FALSELY claims Georgia’s new voting law doesn’t guarantee broad access or ensure election integrity, caving to the “woke” left.
The TRUTH is the law expands early voting & makes voting more secure. He’s sharing a false narrative. Shame!
— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) April 1, 2021
“(Quincey) FALSELY claims Georgia’s new voting law doesn’t guarantee broad access or ensure election integrity, caving to the ‘woke’ left,” Wicker tweeted soon after. “The TRUTH is the law expands early voting & makes voting more secure. He’s sharing a false narrative. Shame! #WokeCorporateHypocrites”
The Mississippian’s claims, though, require a selective reading of the Georgia law, which that state’s Republican governor, Brain Kemp, signed into law on March 24.
‘Jim Crow In The 21st Century’
On March 23, the New York Times reported that Heritage Action for America, an arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, met with Georgia Republicans and proposed ideas for restricting voting access days before such bills “began flooding the Legislature.” Heritage Action is spending $24 million to push so-called “election integrity” bills in battleground states across the country. Sen. Wicker has ties to the Heritage Foundation and spoke about foreign policy issues at one of their events in 2019.
The new Georgia law allows state officials to usurp the power of county election officials if the Georgia State Board of Elections determines the county boards are performing poorly. Opponents of the law fear that Georgia’s Republican-dominated state government could use the provision to target counties with large Black populations and ones that lean heavily Democratic.
Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, stood up against former President Donald Trump last year as he made baseless allegations of voter fraud and urged the state’s top election officials to change the results and give him a victory there. But the new bill removes Raffensperger from his position as the chairman of the State Board of Elections. Instead, Georgia’s Republican-dominated Legislature will appoint a new board under the law; that chair, in turn, will appoint half of the other seats on the board.
During the 2020 elections, Georgia voters in 90% non-white districts waited in line to vote, on average, eight times as long as ones in 90% white districts, similar to some disparities this publication reported on in Mississippi precincts. In some cases, Georgia voters in majority Black districts waited in line eight hours. In many cases, citizens helped these voters with their long waits by bringing food and water.
The new law, though, makes it a misdemeanor crime to give water or food to anyone within either 150 feet of the polling place or within 25 feet of anyone standing in line. The law does allow poll workers to hand out nourishment if they choose to do so, however. After the bill’s passage, President Joe Biden denounced it as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.
Sen. Wicker’s claim that the law “expands voting opportunities” is likely a reference to the fact that it mandates Saturday voting, requires counties to stay open for at least eight hours during early voting days and encourages counties to allow Sunday voting. Gov. Kemp similarly claimed in a statement responding to the Delta CEO yesterday that the law includes “expanding early voting.”
But these changes mostly affect majority-white, rural, Republican-leaning counties, where many election officials only worked part-time during the early voting period in recent elections and often did not offer weekend voting options. The state’s majority-Black voters around Atlanta already allow residents to vote on Saturdays and Sundays.
“If you live in a larger metropolitan county, you might not notice a change. For most other counties, you will have an extra weekend day, and your weekday early voting hours will likely be longer,” Georgia Public Broadcasting reporter Stephen Fowler said in a report on the law’s impact.
For runoff elections, though, the law cuts the runoff period from nine weeks to four weeks and reduces the early voting period from three weeks to just one week. During the U.S. Senate runoffs, voters enjoyed three weeks of early voting and elected U.S. Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the first Black and Jewish senator from the Peach state respectively. Those victories allowed Democrats to secure control of the U.S. Senate.
While early voting and weekend voting are popular in Georgia, especially among Black voters, Mississippi does not allow either option and offers only limited absentee voting options. At the Mississippi Capitol this morning, a pro-voting rights group announced that it is filing a ballot initiative to change Mississippi’s constitution to require 10 days of early voting, as this publication reported yesterday.
An earlier version of the Georgia bill would have outlawed Sunday voting, when Black voters in Georgia and other states traditionally vote in large numbers after church services with “Souls to the Polls” drives. During a March 24 committee hearing last week on H.R. 1, a new federal voting rights bill, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed to that since-defunct provision.
“What an astonishing coincidence: outlaw voting on a day when African American churches sponsor get-out-the-vote efforts. I’d like one of the Republican members on this committee to give us a plain-sense justification for that restriction,” Schumer, who is Jewish, said.
U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Mississippi’s junior senator, responded.
“I can’t speak for Georgia, but I can speak for Mississippi on why we would never (vote) on Sunday or hold an election on a Sunday. … In God’s word in Exodus 20:18, it says, ‘Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.’ So that is my response to Senator Schumer,” said Hyde-Smith, who has held numerous campaign events on Sundays and took the oath of office for her swearing-in ceremony on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021.
(The verse Hyde-Smith cited from the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 20:18, actually says, “When the people saw the thunder and lighting and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance.” The verse she meant to cite is Exodus 20:8).
While most Christians worship on Sunday, traditionally and among religious Jews, including Schumer, the Sabbath begins on Friday evening and continues into Saturday. Hyde-Smith’s remarks drew a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League Southeast.
“(Hyde-Smith’s) comments are emblematic of the push by lawmakers in GA and other states to disenfranchise racial minority, low-income, elderly, rural, disabled, and student voters,” the ADL Southeast tweeted on March 24. “Equally as offensive, she totally disregards the Sabbath of Jews, Muslims and some Christians.”
Jemar Tisby, a historian and the president of The Witness: A Black Christian Collective, said in an interview last week that the senator should not speak on behalf of Black Mississippians.
“Black Christians who go to church on Sunday morning and then go vote afterwards in a ‘Souls-to-the-Polls’ initiative can determine what honors the Sabbath and satisfies their religious duties for themselves—they don’t need Cindy Hyde-Smith to do it for them,” Tisby said on March 24. “Furthermore, many Christians would consider serving their nation and their neighbor by voting for just laws and policies to be a perfectly appropriate way to celebrate the Sabbath.”
Tisby is the author of, “The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism.”
Kathryn Tucker, a historian at Troy University in Alabama who studies the Civil Rights Movement, told the Mississippi Free Press that she considers it impossible to disentangle Black religion from the fight for voting rights and civil rights. She pointed out that Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman—the three civil rights workers whom Klansmen murdered in the 1964 “Mississippi Burning” murders in Neshoba County—had traveled there to investigate the burning of a Black church.
“You cannot have the Civil Rights Movement or the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act without the Black church. Even go back to slavery and then Reconstruction and African Americans founding their own churches where they could worship freely and not be told that God wants them to be slaves, the Black church has always played a role,” Tucker said.
“I think that’s how Dr. King and John Lewis saw it. It’s not just about the promise of the next life. It’s about improving society and how we can make society more Christian and better here on earth.”
Fact-Checking Wicker, Biden
Like Hyde-Smith, Sen. Wicker opposes the For The People Act, which he described as a “federal takeover of elections” in a statement on March 29. In that statement, Wicker said Democrats’ claim that the bill “would make voting easier” is wrong and that it “its main effect would be to make cheating easier.” National Republicans for decades have claimed that voter fraud is a significant problem, but repeated investigations have found that such instances are rare.
In the March 29 statement, Wicker claimed H.R. 1 “would ban voter ID requirements,” a false claim that Hyde-Smith also made last week.
The For The People Act requires states with voter ID laws to allow would-be voters who do not have photo ID when they arrive at the polls to satisfy the requirement “by presenting the appropriate State or local election official with a sworn written statement, signed by the individual under penalty of perjury, attesting to the individual’s identity and attesting that the individual is eligible to vote in the election.”
The For The People Act also bars states from requiring voters who cast ballots by mail to include photo ID. Georgia implemented ID requirements for mail-in votes in its new law last week.
Those changes would have little impact on Mississippi’s voter ID law, though. Mississippi voters can already vote by sworn affidavit if they do not have a photo ID on Election Day, and their ballot will count so long as they present an accepted form of ID to their circuit clerk’s office within five business days.
In his tweets about the new Georgia law yesterday, Sen. Wicker compared the Delta CEO’s criticisms to a false statement President Biden made last week when he said the law ends “(early) voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work.”
The Georgia law only requires counties to offer early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but allows local officials to make early voting available as early as 7 a.m. or as late as 7 p.m., which some already do.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it was joining forces with civil rights groups, including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, to challenge Georgia’s law in federal court.
“This law is driven by blatant racism, represents politics at its very worst, and is clearly illegal,” Sophia Lakin, the deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “We urge the court to act swiftly to strike it down.”