Sohan Gade ‘23 (he/him), Staff Writer
Around 160 million Americans voted in last year’s presidential election, the most out of any election in United States history. A major deciding state was Georgia, which also had two Senate runoff races in January; more than 4 million Georgians cast their ballot for the Senate races.
The state of Georgia was also in the headlines earlier this month for a restrictive voting bill. The Election Integrity Act of 2021 makes absentee voting much more difficult. Georgia voters will now have less time to request an absentee ballot (77 days versus 180 days) and also less time to mail them in before Election Tuesday (four days before the election versus eleven days before the election).
Equally restrictive are the strict Voter ID requirements, as the law now requires voters to have a state-issued ID, as opposed to just a signature. Another particularly extreme clause is that a person cannot hand out water or snacks to those in line. Conservative politicians have used similarly restrictive legislation to falsely accuse mail-in ballots of causing widespread voter fraud.
In an interview with The Associated Press (AP), former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and prominent voting rights activist Stacey Abrams pointed towards Republican concerns about losing elections.
“Republicans are gaming the system because they’re afraid of losing an election,” said Abrams, referring to the Election Integrity Act.
Atlanta was due to host one of baseball’s biggest events, the All-Star Game, in July. Major League Baseball made the decision to move the game out of Georgia in response to the discriminatory bill. The economic impact is said to have totaled around $100 million.
Controversial policies such as the Election Integrity Act can have major effects on the financial and economic conditions of a region by triggering boycotts from out of state. Dr. Clark Ross, Frontis W. Johnson Professor of Economics, currently teaches a class called Economic History of the US.
“[The bill] creates a hostile environment, it creates an atmosphere that’s not attractive and it will have varying economic implications from location decisions to tourism decisions,” said Dr. Ross.
During the interview with the AP, Abrams took an interesting approach to the boycotts, describing them as having the right intent but not the right effect. “I do not believe that a boycott at this moment is beneficial to the victims of these bills. I do believe it is absolutely necessary for corporations to show their goodwill,” said Abrams.
Metro Atlanta is a major economic center home to several Fortune 500 companies. Delta Airlines, one of the three major US-based airlines, released a statement against the bill, explaining that “full and equal access to voting is a fundamental right for all citizens.”
Local Davidson-Lake Norman Area businesses such as Summit Coffee Co. also weighed in.
“As policy, Summit doesn’t throw itself into the middle of every political issue. But more often than ever, there are issues like voter suppression that shouldn’t even be politicized in the first place. We fundamentally believe in the right to vote, in democracy, and in enacting legislation that makes it more accessible — not less — to cast your ballot,” said Summit Coffee Co. CEO, Brian Helfrich ‘07.
This is not the first time a major sporting event has pulled out of a city for discriminatory politics. The NBA was set to host its All-Star game here in Charlotte in 2016. The game was moved to New Orleans as a response to then-North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s signing of the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act or House Bill 2 (HB2), also commonly known as the Transgender Bathroom Bill. The bill required individuals to use public bathrooms only based on their assigned sex at birth.
Located in North Carolina, Davidson’s campus was also affected by HB2. “It meant that students who were considering coming to Davidson […] may have chosen to go elsewhere, so that bill really hit at the Davidson community’s core,” said Professor of Education Studies Dr. Chris Marsicano ‘10.
Dr. Marsicano also mentioned that the bill helped change the way students have interacted with politics in terms of advocacy:
“When I was a Davidson student, I can [only] remember two protests [during] my entire four years,” said Marsicano. “It seems like now Davidson students are ready to be organized and ready to go out there and fight to make their voices heard. The organization that students can bring to the table in opposing bills or laws or even [supporting] on-campus policies that they agree with is huge.”
After a lot of backlash, HB2 was partially repealed in 2017 when Gov. Roy Cooper signed House Bill 142 (HB 142), nullifying the original anti-LGBTQ provisions. Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Equality NC have pushed for a full repeal on HB2, arguing that HB142 is just “HB2.0” and does not actually protect LGBTQ people.
However, conservative politicians in Raleigh have continued to introduce discriminatory legislation, such as the recent Save Women’s Sports Act, which effectively bans transgender individuals from playing on women’s sports teams.
North Carolina conservatives have also looked at passing laws similar to Georgia’s recent Election Integrity Act of 2021. Dr. Greg Snyder, Chair of the local Precinct 206 Democrats, commented on conservative politicians’ aims to advance such bills. “You can bet that there will be new bills proposed in the NC legislature under the rubric of ‘election integrity.’ It’s just a matter of time. In fact, there already is one: SB 326, the “[NC] Election Integrity Act,” said Dr. Snyder.
SB326 was introduced in the North Carolina Senate last month. This bill is less restrictive than its “Georgia counterpart,” in that the main change is that absentee ballots would need to arrive on Election Day as opposed to the current deadline of three days later.
State Senator Natasha Marcus (D) commented on SB326. “[The law] would throw away ballots if they arrive after election day, regardless of why they are late. So it forces anyone who wants to vote by mail to vote very early, and get their ballot in the mail very early. As we know, there’s been a slowdown with the US Postal Service. It’s not a voter’s fault if the mail is slow,” said Sen. Marcus.
One key difference between the two states is that North Carolina has more high-ranking Democrats, including Governor Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein. Governor Cooper is likely to veto discriminatory legislation similar to SB326.
“We have enough Democrats in the General Assembly to uphold a veto [and] that was our show of force to say, we’re here, we have some power, and we intend to use it to stand up for important things,” said Sen. Marcus.
As a southern state, Georgia surprised the nation by voting Democratic in November’s general election and January’s Senate races. Laws such as the Election Integrity Act and HB2 can threaten the values that Americans deserve and shape the electorate. They are also reminders that being politically engaged is important. Last September, Reynolds Lecturer Dr. Ibram X. Kendi explained why politics affects everyone.
Dr. Kendi said, “When you say, I don’t do politics, it’s equivalent to saying, I don’t do power […]To not vote or to just vote is equivalent to essentially allowing someone to dominate you.”