Manchin throws a lifeline …

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) continues to demonstrate he is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.  From the beginning of President Joe Biden’s administration, Manchin has acted as a gatekeeper of sorts for any policy.  Too frequently, he has denied his party’s ambitions for spending packages which might be transformative for the country (or the next waste of taxpayer money).  

Manchin (left) and Schumer (right) worked out a deal against all odds

With the 2022 Midterm Elections just a few months away, Manchin surprised nearly everyone by agreeing to a spending bill that will revive what appeared to be a stalled Biden agenda.  Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) spent weeks negotiating what is now referred to as The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.  The legislation could be a boon for the nation and more importantly, shore up a fractured Democratic Party at a time when it appeared headed towards losing control of Congress.

So what’s in this bill?

As the title of the bill suggests, its primary aim is to curb the level of inflation that has been a significant problem for the nation.  In 2021, inflation stood at 7% and for 2022, it’s currently at 9.1%.  Price increases have been most noticeable in terms of gas and groceries — commodities which are ‘must haves.’   At one point, average gas prices rose to over $5 per gallon, a historically high rate for Americans.  Stress levels are high and the word recession has been tossed around.

  • First, the government will put in place a minimum corporate tax of 15%, which the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates will add over $313 billion to the government’s tax revenue.  This will reportedly ‘close the loophole’ which allows multinational corporations to avoid paying their corporate taxes in the United States.
  • The legislation will also allow the federal government to negotiate prices Medicare will pay with drug companies, something both major parties have supported as a cost saving measure.  The Congressional Budget Office estimate suggests this will save $288 billion over the next decade.
  • Subsidies for the health insurance plans of lower-income Americans will be extended under the Affordable Care Act by an additional $64 billion over the next three years.
  • More liberal Democrats will be pleased with the sizable investment into clean energy and cuts to carbon emissions.  The government would extend tax credits for electric vehicles, solar panels, and other forms of machines which utilize cleaner forms of energy.  Tax credits would also be offered to manufacturing facilities which become ‘greener’ in their approaches.  With all forms of tax credits and government spending on cleaner forms of energy and reclamation, the federal government is committing over $380 billion to climate change.  Moreover, independent researchers believe the bill could reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next decade.

What impact will it have on inflation and elections?

The bill’s individual pieces aim to reduce costs for spending in the necessities of life.  Even with insurance, health care costs place a significant burden on Americans.  Any illness which requires hospitalization, surgery, or long term treatment can financially break aa family.  Reducing these costs for some of the most vulnerable through ACA subsidies and Medicare savings helps the bottom line.

Creating cleaner forms of energy and an infrastructure for them will decrease the demand fossil fuels, and lower prices.  American foreign policy will also factor into fuel prices.  The Russo-Ukrainian War prompted our nation and European allies to cut economic ties with Russia for their unprovoked invasion.  Russia’s status as the second leading producer of oil and the second leading producer of natural gas means the entire world is experiencing a problem with fuel prices.  The resolution of that conflict will lead to an increased supply of oil and gas, which will undoubtedly lower prices on those commodities. 

US Bureau of Labor inflation numbers on the Consumer Price Index, last 12 months

The Inflation Reduction Act isn’t a stand-alone measure, though.  The Federal Reserve Board recently approved an increase in the interest rate from 1.75% to 2.5%, in the hopes of slowing down the overall economy.  The effect on banks and their lending is yet to be seen, but typically consumers respond to increased rates by dialing back their desires for major purchases (auto and home).  

Republicans have hammered Democrats and the Biden administration for the inflation rates and they hope to see a major shift in government control in this year’s midterm elections.  With Democrats currently clinging to slim majorities in both chambers of Congress, the GOP sees an opportunity for creating a divided government.  They would, at the very least, have the ability to block the Biden administration’s goals for the next two years.

Until June, it appeared the GOP had all the ammunition it would need for a solid performance in the midterm elections.  However, this summer brought some unexpected life to Democrats.  A recent decrease in gas prices is encouraging, with national per gallon averages down from $5.03 to $4.67.  For those in the Mountain State, current averages have been hovering around $4.30 in the last week.  

One would also have to believe Democratic candidates for office will receive a boost in support after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.  That decision, which overturned the right to an abortion, has energized the left.  It just so happens that overturning a 50 year old precedent and centerpiece of liberal belief can shock people into action.  

In case folks haven’t been paying attention in West Virginia, the Legislature is on fire with activity.  Pro-choice supporters rallied to object to new legislation which would govern what, if any, circumstances a woman could have an abortion.  One would almost have to expect an uptick in voter turnout this year.

And then, Joe Manchin entered the chat.  West Virginia’s conservative-yet-Democrat senator threw his party the support they have wanted for the last two years.  This spending bill is not only a legislative victory for the Biden administration and the party, but a measure which will do what Republicans haven’t done.  This bill will reduce the federal deficit by $300 billion in the next decade.  Republicans have consistently talked a good game on spending and deficits, but it’s the Democrats who are doing the heavy lifting.  

The Inflation Reduction Act gives liberal candidates a measure of crossover appeal to more moderate voters.  The legislation becomes more meaningful in terms of its timing.  At this point in the election season, Republicans were content to ‘run out the clock’ and not pass anything which might help President Biden and his party.  The fact that Joe Manchin consistently rebuffed his own party meant nothing was likely to happen and Republicans could claim the left lacked the ability combat inflation and other key problems the country faces.

When Manchin signed on to this bill, he effectively gave his party a lifeline that they desperately needed.

Why did Manchin agree to this?

Manchin likely has multiple reasons for signing on to this piece of legislation, notably the fact that helping his party increases the chances he stays in a position of importance for the next two years.  As long as the partisan balance in the Senate remains so close, Manchin’s position as a sort of swing vote remains in tact.  Legislation from either party would need his seal of approval.  Also, maintaining a Democratic majority means Manchin retains his position as the Chair of the Committee of Energy and Natural Resources.  Manchin’s party might also have put increasing pressure on him, as he noted he supported the bill, in part, because he didn’t want to “disappoint people again.”

Manchin’s support for the bill also connects to its help for West Virginia.  Included in the spending is a permanent extension for the Black Lung Disability Fund, which provides medical care for coal miners affected by black lung.  West Virginia also has the fourth highest median age for any state, and our seniors will benefit from changes to Medicare.  Manchin’s home state also has the fourth highest poverty rate, meaning its citizens will benefit from ACA subsidies and a potential decrease in inflation rates.

Perhaps most importantly, the investment into greener energy and reduction in carbon emissions will be a positive step for a state who might finally see that coal consumption is declining.  The state needs viable alternatives for the coal industry in the future.  This bill does not do away with coal, but could help to diversify West Virginia’s economy.  

Tack on the fact that the predicted overall net effect of the bill is a reduction in the federal deficit, and it’s a no-brainer for Manchin.  

Are there any downsides to this bill?

Economies are never quite like a science laboratory.  Too many variables exist and government officials have no control over most of them.  It’s possible that the result of the experiment isn’t quite what the experts predict.  Even then, not all experts agree about what the bill might do for inflation rates.  

The name of the legislation seems more like a misnomer.  Its impact will ease financial burdens on some of the more vulnerable sectors of American society, but the law itself may not move the needle much on inflation rates.  Monetary policy tools like the adjustment of interest rates and changes in money supply must be properly utilized in conjunction with fiscal policies.  

Furthermore, the larger factors which contributed to the rise of inflation remain unresolved.

The growth of the money supply in 2020 was significant, to say the least

The growth of the American money supply during the Covid shutdown in 2020 was an unheard of economic response and the single greatest increase in money supply in the nation’s history.  While people of good conscience can debate whether or not it was needed at the time, there’s no doubt that the action injected so much money into the economy, that businesses naturally responded by increasing prices.  While the Federal Reserve Banks are working to correct this problem, it cannot, nor should it, remove that excess cash all at once.

The broken supply chains from the Covid shutdown have contributed to the inflation problems.  The demand for various goods and services never changed but the world’s ability to move the necessary products for those goods and services diminished and has yet to return to normal.  When the same demand exists for less of the commodities people want, prices rise.

Finally, until the Russo-Ukrainian War ends with Russia withdrawing its forces, much of the world will continue to boycott Russian coal, oil, and natural gas.  This will put a strain on fuel costs worldwide (though OPEC is increasing its output to offset these issues).

Political ‘Infrastructure’ and the future of West Virginia Politics

With all the discussion of physical infrastructure in the last six months, the possibility exist that we have forgotten about a more important type of infrastructure in society.  The political institutions which comprise key aspects of a democracy arguably constitute a more important ‘political’ infrastructure in our society.  In the last decade, the West Virginia Republican Party has significantly altered these institutions, which tilt elections in their favor for the immediate future.

Democrats once held great sway in West Virginia, but since 2000, the state dramatically turned red.  Some of the reasons relate to the focus on political issues.  The Bush administration started a trend of focusing on political issues leaning more towards the social policies rather than economic policies.  Most residents in West Virginia hold anti-abortion views and the GOP capitalizes on this in every single election.  And that’s part of the game, so to speak.  Candidates and their parties have the responsibility of framing the issues in a way which appeals to voters and then help turn out those voters.  However, the systems and means by which we elect our representatives are changing in ways which unfairly help Republicans.

So what are examples of these changes in political infrastructure?

1. Most people overlook the elected position in West Virginia of Secretary of State.  This individual bears the primary responsibility of ensuring free and fair elections for the entire state.  The Secretary of State possesses wide latitude in determining how counties conduct elections and tabulate votes.

While we often overlook the this position, the entire nation should understand the importance of the position after the mess with Georgia’s Secretary of State in the 2020 Election, where he refused to overturn the results of the state’s presidential returns.  In West Virginia, current Secretary of State Mac Warner raised eyebrows after his election in 2016 by firing 16 employees in the Office of Secretary of State almost immediately.  As it happened, most of the 16 employees were Democrats.  Warner hired 23 individuals, and almost all were Republicans.  Regardless of the level of employees’ competency, the optics were bad.  

Firing a group of people and then replacing them with members of one political party provides the Republican Party with their people on the inside of key government positions on how to handle election policy.  Moreover, those 16 people who lost their jobs?  They filed lawsuits for wrongful termination and settled with the state.  The payouts totaled over $3.2 million of your tax dollars.  Small price to pay for controlling the gears of elections.

2. The state legislature also contributes to the development of Republican political infrastructure.  One of their more recent changes involves the creation of an intermediate court system.  Prior to this change, any civil or criminal complaint would originate in the appropriate circuit court and any potential appeal moved directly to the West Virginia State Supreme Court.  The intermediate court of three judges adds another layer to the legal system, which benefits those who fall into the Republican camp.  Adding another court to West Virginia makes it more difficult for individuals with less financial resources to pursue a claim or an appeal in courts.  This, in sheer percentages, would likely benefit Republicans more than Democrats.  The new law, which maintains that these judges on the court will be elected in the future, allows for the governor to appoint the first round of judges on staggered terms.  Governor Jim Justice, of course, is a Republican.  

3. Last year, the State Senate passed SB 565, which would have altered elections in some concerning ways.  Current election law in West Virginia allows for early voting in person to occur from the 13th day prior to the election to the 3rd day prior to the election.  This law would have changed that early voting period to the 17th day prior to the election to the 7th.  What’s the rationale for this type of change? 

More concerning about SB 565 was the provision which would have allowed for purging voter registration rolls if a voter did not vote in the previous election.  This would allow the Secretary of State more control over elections and the right to vote.  If a voter sat out a single election, the Secretary of State could remove their name from the voting pool.  The Republican Party would control a significant piece of the infrastructure in elections.  

Ultimately, SB 565 did not pass through the House of Delegates before the 2021 session ended.  Yet, as with most legislation, it stands to reason that the bill’s sponsors will pick this up again in the 2022 session.  

4. Republicans currently hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, and this means they can pass virtually any piece of legislation they deem necessary.  Democrats can do little to push back.  One of the perks of having a majority at this particular moment is that the GOP controlled the redistricting process for the senate and the House of Delegates.  Republicans instituted some rather significant changes in this area which create more favorable circumstances for their candidates.

The most noteworthy change to the system stemmed from the decision to move from multi-member districts to single member districts in the House of Delegates.  Previously, the multi-member districts played an important role in helping to maintain representation of an area proportional to the community at large.  For instance, in the old system, I lived in House District 16, which had three seats.  A voter could choose up to three people to represent the district, allowing for a range of representation.  In the Election of 2020, House 16 had two Republicans and one Democrat.  Two of the three are white and the third is black.   

Multi-member districts also have a natural immunity to gerrymandering (redrawing district lines to help or hurt a candidate or group).  It becomes more difficult to fudge with the districts if less of them exist.  The old system had 67 districts, and the new one will have 100.  That’s 50% more districts to draw in a way that would benefit particular people, groups, or parties.

Questions quickly popped up over a change to a district affecting incumbent Caleb Hanna (R-44), whose new district would have included part of Pocahontas County.  Delegates requested the change because of a white supremacist group which lives isolated in Pocahontas County (Delegate Hanna is African-American).  The white supremacist group in said county is largely defunct and would likely have no impact on any election.  Critics also pointed out that the Republicans only wished to protect racial minorities if they were of the same party.

Republicans also redrew the districts into a fashion whereby many Democratic incumbents would face one another in an election, whereas few Republicans would face such primary contests.  

If you look at the new districts, some of the shapes appear bizarre enough to suggest gerrymandering.  The accompanying demographic data also presents some curious numbers on race.  Not one of the 100 districts contains less than a 74% white grouping.  Ironically, one of the districts which has the largest non-white percentage is home to Delegate Sean Hornbuckle (D-16), a candidate so widely popular in the Huntington area, he would probably win regardless of the racial makeup. 

There are only a few of the major areas in the state where I have a deep level of familiarity, and two of those are Huntington and Charleston.  If Republicans had a commitment to protecting racial minorities, I can assure you that the committee on redistricting could have drawn a better map for the Huntington and Charleston areas.

Why does this stuff matter?  

The most significant right any citizen has in a democracy is the right to vote.  Without that unobstructed right, the people are at the mercy of those in power.  The political infrastructure which is being altered in West Virginia is worth examining:

  • The Secretary of State’s mismanagement of a system which includes his stacking his office with political allies.
  • Creating an additional layer of courts which can only benefit those with financial resources, imbued with Republican appointed judges for the foreseeable future 
  • Attempting to alter voting rights legislation 
  • Abandoning multi-member districts 
  • Gerrymandering districts to benefit one party and certain people 

This leads to a state dominated by a single party and no true representation of the people.  The move from blue to red in the last two decades finally saw Republicans surpass Democrats in number of registered voters, with 36.8% and 36.5% respectively.  Surprisingly, 22.6% of voters in West Virginia hold no party affiliation.  These percentages definitely aren’t indicative of the government the state has.

The state has also witnessed a few politicians make a flip in party affiliation.  We are all aware of Jim Justice’s transition from Democrat to Republican, but others have seen the light, as it were.  

In 2014, Daniel Hall flipped to the Republican Party when the State Senate held a 17-17 balance, giving the GOP a majority.  At the time, he noted, “Political climates change, and I made a decision today to keep Raleigh, Wyoming and Mcdowell [sic] counties at the table in the West Virginia Senate. I have always picked our people over party…and did today as well. This decision will upset some, but had to be made for our district to be relevant.”  

This past summer, Delegate Mick Bates switched to the majority party, giving the Republicans a 78-22 advantage in the House.  Bates wrote in a statement explaining his move, “At a national level, the controlling interests and leadership of the Democratic party continue to pursue positions that alienate and anger voters in rural parts of the country and don’t reflect the priorities, values or beliefs of the people in West Virginia.”  That’s a coded message explaining that his district voted heavily for Donald Trump, and he sees the proverbial writing on the wall. 

Last week, another relevant switch occurred when former Delegate Doug Reynolds announced he was leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP.  The news seems relevant because it has to precede some type of announcement for another run at office.  Reynolds is not at all someone who could be described as conservative, but after losing the 2016 Election for Attorney General to Patrick Morrissey, he, too, must have seen which way the winds are blowing.

Reynolds’ party switch is more concerning than others because he founded and runs HD Media, which owns a number of newspapers in Southern West Virginia, including the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, and the state’s largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail.  These important institutional mechanisms for conveying key information, endorsements, and other political news have largely been fairly liberal in the past.  Does that change in the future?

One thing is for certain.  The Republican Party has effectively laid the groundwork for political domination of state politics for some time to come.  A one-party state benefits no one.

The Honeymoon is Over: The future of Biden agenda

ike most marriages, a presidential administration begins with a warm, fuzzy feeling of hope.  When President Joe Biden took the oath of office on January 20th, he brought a breath of fresh air after four years of poor policy decisions.  Once a president takes office, he still must govern effectively. 

The road ain’t as long as President Biden would like

The administration’s first 100 days were filled with successes and hope for the the coming year.  President Biden scored a policy victory by passing The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which authorized $1.9 trillion of spending on COVID relief and assisted in the distribution of vaccine delivery.  The administration reached its goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans within the first 100 days of the president’s term.  American citizens received a stimulus check.  The economy added jobs in recovering from the COVID shutdown.  President Biden’s approval ratings hovered in the 60-something range.  Supporters of the administration mentioned the president’s name in the same breath as Franklin Roosevelt.

The Biden administration hoped to parlay early victories into support for a broad sweeping infrastructure bill known as The American Jobs Plan.  Democrats also proposed a bold attempt at reforming the nation’s elections laws in the For The People Act, which would have likely ended partisan gerrymandering, changed campaign finance laws, and established nationalized standards for ballots and voting procedures.  Maybe he is or isn’t FDR, but you can’t say President Biden isn’t swinging for the fences.

In politics, however, even early victories in an administration sometimes can’t produce enough political capital to govern in the way he or she would like.  And unfortunately for this administration (and probably the nation as a whole), the honeymoon is over for President Biden and America. 

The problems add up

President Biden’s agenda has always hinged on the elimination of the filibuster in the Senate.  The practice of stalling a bill to death means 60 votes are required to push legislation forward.  However, changing Senate rules to end the filibuster only requires 50 votes (Vice President Kamala Harris holds the tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided Senate).  Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has refused to vote in favor ending the filibuster, dealing a significant blow to the Biden administration. 


Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) advanced the For The People Act though Democrats had always understood it would not pass.  A vote only served to put senators on the record about where they stood on the matter.  The measured failed on a 50-50 vote where no one crossed party lines.

With the voting rights legislation out of the picture for the foreseeable future, President Biden and his team turned their attention to the infrastructure bill.  The Senate could pass the measure using the reconciliation process (a procedure which only requires a majority of votes if the bill relates to spending / budget issues).  It’s how Democrats passed the The American Rescue Plan.  Yet, Senator Manchin threw a wrench in the works again.  West Virginia’s senior senator did not want to use the reconciliation process to pass a bill unless at least one Republican senator would vote for the bill.  Manchin has always maintained that the nation needs to work on reestablishing bipartisanship. 

In that spirit of bipartisanship, Manchin has attempted and succeeded in brokering a deal which will involve support from at least 11 Republicans, including Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mitt Romney (R-UT).  This bill would spend $579 billion immediately and add additional money over the next decade to address a number of infrastructure projects which the nation desperately needs.  

President Biden’s agenda seems to have stalled

So, isn’t this a good thing?  Not exactly for the Biden administration the context of this article.  The politics of who receives credit for this infrastructure bill matters.  The 21 Democrats and Republicans in Congress have a chance to raise their profiles and let everyone know they made it happen, and the president was along for the ride.  Moreover, the bill has crossover appeal amongst the moderates of both parties, but the more liberal wing of the Democrats has expressed frustration over it.  

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) spoke of her frustration with bipartisan deals, noting, “… when these bipartisan deals come together, they tend to underserve the communities that are already underserved …”  

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), perhaps the most liberal in Congress, also didn’t seem too keen about this bill.  Sanders and other members of the more progressive wing of the party believe the term ‘infrastructure’ should include pieces such as climate change, paid family leave, foster care, and funds dedicated to health care.

Members of Congress in the more liberal wing felt a sense of relief when the White House stated they would pursue a two-bill tandem process, which would include a reconciliation budget bill to take up the issues not included in the infrastructure compromise.   The president almost inadvertently torpedoed the entire thing by implying he would veto the infrastructure bill without support for the budget bill.  He later clarified that he would not veto the compromise bill.

The bill isn’t a done deal, and a revolt from his own party isn’t out of the question, and this might be more damaging to his administration than if Republicans kept stonewalling in the Senate.


President Biden also must contend with a growing number of mass shootings across the country.  At the halfway point of this year, more than 270 mass shootings have occurred.  The president’s ability to respond to gun violence is limited to executive orders and these cannot supersede law.  Making any meaningful change to gun policy would require new legislation and Republicans will not yield on this issue.

The president’s accomplishments with regard to vaccine distribution and economic relief seem like a distant memory for most Americans.  Most of the Americans who wanted a COVID vaccine have probably already received one, and stimulus money is long gone.  Throw in a heat wave that is crushing the Northwest and other ‘normal’ problems and no one cares about the fact that unemployment numbers were down in May.

Earlier this year, President Biden tasked Vice President Harris with focusing on the crisis on the southern border and that situation has not improved.  The number of illegal crossings hit a record high in March, and initially, analysts believed those numbers might decrease.  However, the numbers for April and May have eclipsed the record set in March.  Each of the last three months has seen more than 170,000 illegal crossings.  

Vice President Harris complicated matters when dropped the ball in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt.  When confronted with a question about why she had not been to the border to personally visit, Vice President Harris responded in a flummoxed manner, “And I haven’t been to Europe … And, I mean, I don’t understand the point that you’re making. I’m not discounting the importance of the border.”  It didn’t go over well with anyone.  

What’s holding back the Biden agenda?

1.  A divided Senate — When President Biden took office this year, he did so with a slight majority in the House of Representatives and an evenly divided 50-50 Senate.  This limits his ability to persuade Congress to act.  When Franklin Roosevelt took office, Democrats held 58 of the 96 Senate seats and 311 of the 435 House seats.  In the advent of Lyndon Johnson’s administration, his party controlled 65 Senate seats and 268 House seats.  Barack Obama’s initial numbers were 60 and 256, respectively.  Modern presidents who were known for substantially advancing legislation had an easier path to establishing meaningful policies because they had Congress’ backing.  Without a unified government, any president will struggle. 

2.  Heightened partisanship — The degree to which members of both major parties stick to their tribe affects the Biden agenda, or any president’s agenda.  Members of Congress are too scared to deviate from the official party line.  Democratic and Republican leaders have made it clear they are willing to punish members who go too far off the reservation.  You can believe that Republican leadership made this principle quite clear when they removed Liz Cheney (R-WY) from leadership after her criticism of former President Donald Trump.  Party officials also hold sway over committee assignments, campaign finances, and potential primary challenges.  Only a few members, such as Joe Manchin, have any immunity to this.  If Democrats, for instance, wanted to fund a primary challenger against Manchin, he would only benefit from this.  West Virginia’s generally conservative nature would view a primary challenge against Manchin as a sign that he’s doing the right things.  Also, Manchin’s age must be factored in.  He isn’t facing re-election until 2024 and at that point, he might retire.  He’s one of the rare members of Congress who is as close to bulletproof as you can be.  However, Manchin is the exception and not the rule.

With the 2022 mid-term elections right around the corner, both parties understand what’s at stake.  Democrats need more legislative victories to cement their hold on both houses of Congress (and free them from the tyranny of Joe Manchin).  Republicans hope to stall out the rest of this front half of Biden’s term, with the premise of telling voters that the president did not deliver.  The 2022 mid-terms mean both parties have incentives not to stray from the party line.

3.  Joe Manchin — On one hand, I really like Manchin because, in many ways, he represents a number of political ideas I like.  He’s an old-school Democrat and that’s where I fit in, but he’s also (unintentionally) obstructing policies which an administration has a right to implement when they occupy the White House.  The tactics of the minority party’s ‘run out the clock’ mantra have to change, and Joe Manchin isn’t helping that.  The divided Senate wouldn’t be an issue if Manchin would vote to eliminate the filibuster.  It would be less of an issue if he would be willing to vote for the reconciliation process.  

4. The short memory of voters — American voters only see what’s right in front of them, and the present situation shows us problems and inefficiency. Republicans have more than a decent chance to reclaim both houses of Congress in 2022 and a plausible reason is that the American public won’t remember the positive changes that arrived with the Biden administration. You can see this in a slow decline of President Biden’s approval ratings. The president’s political capital is drying up and there is little room for significant legislation to move forward until after the Election of 2022.

Make Georgia Howl: Voter restrictions are dangerous to democracy

Voting is the one form of political participation in which a majority of Americans will actually do in their lifetime.  Establishing a system free and fair elections is the most significant task for the government.  States largely have free rein to establish election laws and voting requirements, provided they do not violate some baseline rules from the federal government.  

The advantage of allowing states to create differing policies allows for localized control to best fit the needs and wants of the citizenry.   We know that people in West Virginia think differently than people from Oregon, or New York, or most other places.  Americans still have a broad set of values, ideas, and laws which link us together, but state autonomy allows for us not to be in complete lockstep.

However, the autonomy of states has not always brought about positive policy changes.  Southern states frequently violated the voting rights of black Americans.  Until key aspects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were overturned in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), states with a history of voter discrimination had to be given ‘preclearance’ by the federal government before making changes to election laws.  


Dangerous Provisions

Thanks to the Shelby decision, Georgia is now free to change election laws without preclearance.  The newest Georgia legislation, SB 202, implements strange, nearly inexplicable rules about voting.  This legislation includes:

• A shocking edit that changes the head of the State Election Board from the Secretary of State to a chairperson chosen by the General Assembly.  This seems very peculiar, particularly in light of the pressure from former President Donald Trump, who attempted to persuade the Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger (R), to refuse certifying the 2020 Presidential Election for Joe Biden.  The law also changes the Secretary of State’s role on the Election Board to a non-voting member.   

If this wasn’t enough, the Secretary of State is obligated to give any and all assistance to the State Election Board, which is specifically named as having “sole discretion” about what is necessary to enforce the law. 

This particular aspect of the law would also allow for the new chairperson of the State Election Board to be chosen solely by the state legislature, omitting any participation by the governor.  This would also appear to be a form of retribution, considering Governor Brian Kemp (R) refused to assist Trump in changing Georgia’s election results.

• The State Election Board is now empowered to suspend a county or municipal superintendent over voting districts and replace them with a temporary official of their choosing.  This would be extremely helpful in having localized officials who will kowtow to the desires of the Board. 

• The State Election Board can implement emergency rules or regulations “in circumstances of imminent peril to public health, safety, or welfare.”  There seems to be little oversight of this authority and one would presume the Board’s emergency powers are subject only to judicial review by appropriate state and federal courts.

• The Secretary of State must obtain information from the state’s offices on voters who might have left the state, died, or become ineligible to participate in elections.  The Secretary of State must “conduct list maintenance on the list of eligible electors.”  That’s a nice way of saying voter rolls must be purged.

• The law amends Georgia policy which had allowed for buses and other vehicles to be used as polling places.  Now, these mobile voting precincts can only be used in the event of an emergency as declared by the governor.  What effect does this have?  It means long line waits will not be alleviated by adding mobile voting units.

• This policy would also amend a requirement for at least one election booth per 250 registered voters in a precinct.  That is now in effect for only state-wide elections.  In all other cases, the local officials can increase or decrease the number of voting booths needed, based on their predictions of what is need. 

Allowing a reduction in voting booths will mean longer wait times and discourage individuals from exercising their right to vote.  Local offices are as important as statewide races.  State legislatures make more of the policies which govern us than federal laws.

• The window for applying for an absentee ballot would be greatly diminished.  Prior to this bill, policy stated a person could apply for an absentee ballot up to 180 days prior to the election.  That window is now reduced to no more than 78 days prior the election, but not in the preceding 11 days before the election.

• Only election officials can send out unsolicited applications for absentee ballots.  If a private citizen or group wants to give out applications for absentee ballots, they can only send them to people who have not already “requested, received, or voted an absentee ballot.”  Any person or group who wants to send these out, they have to check with the state’s list of people who have not already requested, received, or voted an absentee ballot. 

What’s the effect here?  To discourage voting rights groups or parties from mailing out applications for absentee ballots.  The 2020 Election included a large number of absentee ballots and those who participated in this manner disproportionately voted for Democratic candidates.  Not so coincidentally, the Georgia General Assembly has strong Republican majorities.  They do not want people voting absentee ballots.

• Early voting ‘drop boxes’ are permitted at a ratio of one per every 100,000 registered voters per county or the number of advance voting locations in the county (whichever requires less).  This means that urban areas, such as Atlanta (mostly in Fulton County), would have a little bit of a problem.  In the 2020 Election, Fulton County offered 30 early voting locations.  The population of Fulton County is slightly over 1 million.  Even if every single person in the county registered to vote, that would only mean they would need 10 drop boxes for the area, one-third of the amount the city of Atlanta provided in 2020.  Less options for locations to drop off ballots means a more difficult process and the greater likelihood that someone would be frustrated and simply not vote.

• Absentee ballots are placed in a smaller envelope, which is sealed, and placed into a larger envelope.  That’s a practice used by many states — but Georgia requires the outer envelope have the name, date of birth, and driver’s license (or ID) number of the voter.  Why would we allow such key identifying information to be visible?  The new law claims it is to ensure the voter actually filled out the ballot, but that seems redundant when we consider the many other security measures already in place.

• Polling hours on Election Day can only be extended by a superior court judge from that specific county “upon good cause shown by clear and convincing evidence that persons were unable to vote at that precinct during a specific period or periods of time.”

• Special elections or runoffs were held nine weeks after the general election in November.  SB 202 reduced that time frame from nine weeks to 28 days.  Why the reduction?  Probably due to the fact that between the November elections in 2020 and the runoffs in the first week of January of 2021, tens of thousands of Georgians registered to vote.  Democrats were able to register more citizens and subsequently won both Senate seats in the runoffs. 

• Of course, the most bizarre of the new changes to election law states:  “… nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector [voter].” 

Do Georgia’s lawmakers somehow believe that providing someone food and drink to a voter waiting in line would somehow cause them to change their vote?  They aren’t handing out pints of whiskey, but I think drinking sounds like a better idea when I look at the impact of these changes to election laws. 

The conclusions

What can we derive from this legislation?  The changes from a Republican controlled General Assembly can only be seen as a reaction to the results of the 2020 Election.  Georgians voted for President Joe Biden (D), the first Democrat who won the state since Bill Clinton in 1992.  Citizens also voted for Raphael Warnock (D) and Jon Ossof (D), two Democrats in a state which had consistently voted Republican for the last 15 years.

Raphael Warnock’s election deserves special mention, as he is the first black citizen to become a United States Senator for Georgia, and only the 11th person in American history to hold that distinction.  The fact that Warnock is a black man cannot be ignored in a state with a history of racism. 

Georgia is changing.   The citizens are demonstrating that the status quo in terms of the power structure is no longer acceptable.  The population is approximately 60.2% white, 32.6% black, and the remainder of other races and while the racial makeup by percentage has not changed, black voter participation has increased.  According to Pew Research, the last 20 years has seen considerable growth in the number of eligible voters in Georgia, with nearly half the additional 1.9 million people being black. 

In 2018, Georgia came within a hair’s breadth of electing Stacey Abrams (D), who would have been the first black governor of the state and the first female elected.  In 2020, many political experts credited Abrams with a massive voter turnout effort which led to key victories in the Senate and Presidential elections.

I have no doubts there are some racists in Georgia who hate the idea of black citizens exerting such influence.  But I also believe there are plenty of white, male Republicans who are simply afraid of losing their grip on power and policy.  These changes to elections and voting laws are designed to drive down participation by Democrats, particularly people of color.  It’s a calculated effort for a certain group of people to keep their positions of authority.

Critics of my position would try to explain that SB 202 makes Georgia’s elections more secure.  I mean, after all, they named this monstrosity “The Election Integrity Act of 2021,” because who doesn’t love a good euphemism?  And there are provisions within the law that make some changes to election procedures which will no doubt make it more secure.  However, you cannot swallow a bill with some good provisions when it contains so many bad provisions. 

Democracy always belongs to the people who show up to vote.  Georgia’s new policy makes it more difficult for people living in urban areas (mostly Democrats and minority races) to show up to vote.  Americans should be concerned for a number of reasons, because Georgia isn’t the only state restricting ballot access.  It’s just the most audacious and discriminatory in the effort to do so.