MINOT, N.D. — During the 2018 election cycle, when it became clear that then-U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was on the political ropes, her campaign decided it needed a talking point to drive desired voting demographics to the polls.
Thus was born the claim that North Dakota's voter ID laws were crafted to disenfranchise Native American voters, generally, and to block Heitkamp's re-election, specifically.
This turned out to be bunk.
The courts allowed our state's perfectly legal laws to be enforced during the 2018 election and — surprise! — we saw a record-setting turnout. In the state's tribal communities, in particular.
If North Dakota's Republican lawmakers were out to suppress voters (they weren't), they did a terrible job of it. The complaints from Heitkamp and her various allies in the world of professional activism and the news media weren't based on concerns over voting. It was politics.
Georgians are getting a similar taste of politically-motivated histrionics about voting laws.
You've probably heard that those evil, racist Republicans in Georgia are out to suppress voters by denying them food and water, etc., etc.
The reality, as is usually the case, is far more prosaic.
Far from being entirely restrictive, Georgia's much-maligned voting law leaves in place Sunday voting, and actually expands weekend voting overall. "In total, Georgia offers three weeks of early voting, which began last year on Oct. 12. This is not exactly restrictive: Compare that with early voting that started Oct. 24 last year in New York," the Wall Street Journal noted in a recent editorial critical of the overheated response to Georgia's reforms.
Georgia will also continue with its policy of no-excuses absentee voting. This is to say that unlike more than a dozen other states, including President Joe Biden's home state of Delaware, you don't need a reason to request a ballot by mail in Georgia. You can just request one because it's convenient.
What Georgia's law does is get rid of signature matching for contested ballots. It's a good thing. The idea that the validity of a given ballot would hinge on an election official's analysis of a signature is a little scary. Georgia won't do that anymore. Instead, they'll rely on state ID numbers submitted with each ballot. People who vote in-person in Georgia already have to show an ID. Now people who vote by mail would also have to show an ID by way of providing the number from that ID with their ballot.
What's the big deal?
The law will allow the state to suspend local election officials. The concern is that politicians bent on gaming an election outcome will use that for nefarious ends, but if that happens it's going to be noticed and reported on. More likely the authority will be used in instances where local officials do their jobs poorly, like in Floyd County where, in this last election, officials were fired after overlooking thousands of ballots.
Much is made of the provision disallowing the distribution by outside parties of food or water to people standing in line to vote, and while that sounds odd at first blush, the reality doesn't quite live up to the hype. Snacks and water can be provided at the polling place by state officials. It can't be offered by third parties who might use the distribution as a way to get in some electioneering.
The law also seeks to address those long lines. Polling places are required to time their lines, and any location that sees wait time go above an hour will see mandated changes. Frankly, I'd like to see a similar policy implemented in North Dakota.
Is all of this Jim Crow 2.0, as some have claimed?
Or is it just sensible reform?
There are certainly legitimate arguments to be made against all of these reforms, but that's a reality in every public policy debate. There has never been a law implemented that everybody liked.
One thing that does bother me about Georgia's reforms is that the impetus seems to be the utterly bogus claims about election fraud made by disgraced former President Donald Trump and his supporters. No thoughtful person should want to do anything to give those claims credence.
But then, Trump's false claims aren't really any worse than the contrived accusations of racism against these reforms.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.