ATLANTA — As Atondra Bush sped into the parking lot of Rainbow Elementary School on Election Day, the desperation in her voice could be heard as she called voters on the sidewalk.
“Am I late?” she asked. It was 7:08 p.m. Tuesday’s primary election day. The polling stations had just closed.
The auto mechanic had warned her not to overdo it that day. Bush’s 12-year-old black Dodge Charger was severely overheated by an air compressor. But she shot it anyway. Balancing the 2022 Georgia primary was important to her, she told The Daily Beast, and now she’s failed to share in “my responsibilities to future children.”
Her full-time job as a waitress at the West Egg Cafe in midtown Atlanta — and that city’s notoriously bad afternoon traffic — has kept her from voting early at home in suburban Decatur for the past two weeks. Had the state secured the large and immovable ballot boxes outdoors under video surveillance, as in 2020, she could have simply cast her marked ballot. But since Georgia passed SB 202 and its voter restrictions last year, those boxes have been moved indoors and are only available during daytime hours.
“I’m so upset about it…it’s an ‘early vote’ but not for someone like me. That made it harder. It put me in a worse position because I was deprived of that option,” she said, noting that the previous system “would have given me the opportunity to participate in my voice and do my part as a citizen and taxpayer in DeKalb County.” “
The Daily Beast spent Tuesday afternoon speaking to dozens of voters at polling stations in mostly black neighborhoods in the greater Atlanta area. They all – without exception – railed against the increased restrictions in Georgia’s latest electoral law, which has been criticized as a thinly veiled attempt to suppress the more progressive voting rights of minorities and the poor. At first glance, their complaints seem at odds with an announcement by one of the bill’s architects, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who this month announced a record early voting turnout.
But interviews with aggrieved voters this week showed something of a boomerang effect, as the law actually hardened their resolve, drawing them to the polls with renewed anger to sack the very Republican politicians who instituted the restrictions.
“I’m upset and frustrated,” said Cheryl Hines-Bryant, noting what she called the utter stupidity of restricting access to surveys to work hours only while employers are rolling back on public health protections from COVID-19 and starting , to call for the return of workers full-time, personal work.
“The only reason I got to vote today was because I got fired from my job,” Hines-Bryant told The Daily Beast.
Georgia also now bans anyone from distributing food and water within 150 feet of a polling site. Republican lawmakers supporting it pointed to other states already restricting what people can give voters in line — including reportedly progressive New York, where it’s an offense to “take any meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment or provisions.” ‘ that’s worth more than a dollar. The reason given is to prevent activists from buying someone’s vote with favors. And if it’s hot, voters can bring their own food anyway.
“This is ridiculous. Get your own bottle of water. The narrative on our part is that they’re handing out water bottles to elect Democrats. We’re in America, man, it’s not like we’re in the Sahara and in Eritrea, where the ground is dry and cracked and nothing grows,” said Riquet Caballero, who does minority work for Atlanta Young Republicans.
Lack of water wasn’t a problem last Tuesday. The lines were short if there were any lines at all. This was, after all, a primary that historically attracts only a fraction of the people standing in the general election. And though the humidity of the Deep South made your clothes stick, it wasn’t a sweltering, sunny day like the kind Georgians might experience during a summer runoff or early municipal election.
Voncellina Stanley, an accountant, said long lines during an election could be dangerous for people with health conditions, who might forget to bring food or water when they run from work to vote – only to encounter lines that stretch for hours.
“I’m diabetic. I’m thirsty now!” she said and made her way to her car.
“What about the older ones?” asked Cynthia Brown, a credit manager at a title company. “What if today wasn’t as nice as it is now? It should be available. What is the damage in the water?”
Brown said her motorcycle club, the Atlanta Bike Set, helped distribute water during the massive turnout in the 2020 general election, which led to a stunning defeat in typically conservative Georgia for then-President Donald Trump and provided vital votes for the electoral college who brought Joe Biden to the White House. When asked if she thought water bottles could influence someone to change their voice, Brown gave this reporter a death stare.
“Of course not,” she said.
Some voters said they were already planning to violate the Water Distribution Act — or get close to it through civil disobedience to show how unjust the ban is. These include Byron D. Amos, a member of the Atlanta City Council who represents a portion of the city’s downtown that contains the poorest zip code. The Daily Beast interviewed him minutes after he cast his vote at a newly added polling station: the Friendship Baptist Church, the city’s first African-American Baptist congregation founded by ex-slaves shortly after the Civil War.
Amos said he looks forward to distributing water just behind the red line in November.
“Maybe at 151 or 152 feet and get in ‘good trouble,'” Amos said, echoing the famous words of former Georgian Congressman John Lewis, a civil rights activist who, shortly before his death, spoke of the need for people to “come in good troubles, necessary troubles, and redeem the soul of America.”
Georgia’s statewide changes also resulted in some counties getting more ballot boxes for early voting — but more populated counties actually got startling reductions. In gargantuan Fulton County, home to 1 million people in Atlanta and its suburbs, the 38 mail-in ballot boxes have been reduced to 8.
“It would have been easier,” said Brenda Lewis, a 65-year-old certified nursing assistant who works in one retirement home and lives in another. “I’m working, so I thought about voting early, but … the timing.”
None of the voters who spoke to The Daily Beast were convinced of the need to house these ballot boxes indoors, as they were already under video surveillance. Making them harder to reach in the evenings felt like pandering to voter-fraud conspiracy theorists proven wrong by law enforcement, federal judges, and Georgia’s own Raffensperger.
“Postponing them removes any doubts people have about voter fraud, but it could have a chilling effect on voting. If we put our mail in mailboxes, why not our ballots?” asked PJ Booker, a draftsman who draws engineering plans for parking garages and decks.
Natasha Browner, a scientist who conducts health research, said her trips to South Africa taught her that the United States needed to significantly improve its handling of elections to increase availability but keep records free from tampering.
“We have taken enough security measures to allow outdoor ballot boxes,” she said.
For all the resentment over additional difficulties in universal access, voters still maintained that this week’s primary went smoothly. None of the people we interviewed complained about malfunctions in the state’s computer screen ballot system that would prevent them from voting. (Though voters across DeKalb County noticed that several buggy machines incorrectly offered “English” as both language options instead of including Spanish.) On the other hand, The Daily Beast spoke only to those who actually made it to the polls Tuesday.
When The Daily Beast met Raffensperger at his re-election night party on Tuesday and told him about the overwhelmingly positive reaction to working machines and missing lines, he said it was proof that SB 202 had worked well. And he said any concerns about ballot box access were easily allayed by the state’s decision to extend the early voting deadline by adding an extra weekend day, a change mostly affecting rural counties.
But for some, like Christina Archer, who works from home as a Verizon customer service representative looking after her six-year-old daughter, Georgia’s new election law isn’t about whether it makes voting impossible. It’s about undoing measures that made it so easy to vote at the height of the pandemic – and now just a little harder to do your civic duty.
“It just would have been easier,” she said.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/georgias-new-voting-law-actually-drew-voters-outin-rage?source=articles&via=rss Georgia’s new electoral law has actually dragged voters out – in anger