If a person is not smart enough to bring water with them to vote, are they smart enough for voting?

I live in Roswell, Georgia, 20 minutes north of Atlanta. I walked in and immediately was able to vote in the general election, and was behind one person when I voted in the Senate runoff in January. Roswell is 74% white and 11% black with a population of about 90,000.

Union City, Georgia is in Fulton County along with Roswell (and most of Atlanta). Union City is 81% black, 8.6% white and has a population of just over 20,000. Here is a photo of the polling location for Union City in the general election last year.

To answer your question, perhaps those in the photo above didn’t expect to have to wait because they thought (foolishly I know) that their polling location would be similar to my own.

After all, they’re in the same county. But in the same county of a state wherein the average wait in the last hour of polling in majority-minority zones is 51 minutes, while that wait in majority-white zones is 6 minutes. But Republican lawmakers in Georgia are just “shocked” at people saying their election reforms smell just a bit like Jim Crowe.

My ass. They know exactly what they’re doing.

Line to vote in the primaries, June 2020. Source.

Republican “election advisors” have been managing to get polling locations closed to “save money” in black neighborhoods for years. Those locations that managed to stay open complained to the Republican Secretary of State’s Office that they had defective or non working voting machines that needed to be replaced and received … nothing, further exacerbating wait times in polling locations that just happen to be predominately Democrat.

So why on Earth is a single person surprised when, after the state elects two Democratic Senator and a Democratic President despite all of the crap I just described, the Republican controlled State Legislature passes voting reforms that will cost the state $50 million dollars and give the Republican controlled state legislature the power to unilaterally determine a county’s election board isn’t performing adequately and take over control themselves, allow anyone in the state to contest election results if they feel like they saw fraud occurring at a polling location (keep in mind a rural outpost of this state elected Marjorie Green To Congress), and overall made it just a little more difficult and/or uncomfortable for people to vote in a manner that disproportionately affects black voters.

So it isn’t an issue of whether one is smart enough to vote. And it isn’t an issue of providing water. And it isn’t even an issue of ID, because on the list of complaints regarding voting in Georgia ID restrictions are WAY down the list. But when it’s just one thing after another to make it a little more difficult for blacks to vote over time it adds up. And collectively it’s leads to quite reasonable accusations of racism against the state assembly, corporations distancing themselves from state Republican lawmakers, and questions like this, which (to me) is implying minority voters should have to bring water with them to vote.

When I had to wait about 30 seconds.

America’s Authoritarian Governor

Georgia had an early surge of the virus, and now cases are spiking again. Brian Kemp has refused to learn a thing.

America has botched its coronavirus response in so, so many ways since the pandemic began. Even in a country that stands apart from the world for its horrific failures, there have been as many leadership bungles as there are states: Some failed to heed early warnings. Others refused to learn the lessons of outbreaks that came before theirs. Still others played politics instead of following science. And then there’s Georgia.

Georgia’s response to the pandemic has not been going well. It was bad from the beginning: Back in early April, weeks after other states took initial precautions, Georgia dawdled toward a shutdown while its coronavirus cases surged. Still, less than a month later, the state chose to be among the first in the nation to reopen, bringing back businesses known to accelerate the virus’s spread, such as restaurants and gyms, even though new infections had never made a significant or sustained decline. In June, the state welcomed back bars. What happened next was predictable, and was predicted: Case counts came roaring back. More people got sick and died. Many of these deaths were preventable. The state now has the sixth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the United States, behind five states with significantly larger populations.

Lots of states—such as FloridaCalifornia, and New York—have mishandled the pandemic since it hit in March. But when you look closely at Georgia, you see a state with a leader unique among his peers. First-term Republican Governor Brian Kemp presided over a late shutdown so short that his reopening drew a public rebuke from President Donald Trump, who has frequently opposed shutdowns altogether. Kemp’s administration has repeatedly been accused of manipulating data to downplay the severity of the outbreak. He has sparred publicly with the state’s mayors and sued to stop them from implementing safety restrictions or even speaking to the press.

To understand the course that Georgia has plotted through the pandemic, you have to understand Kemp’s failures. Those same failures, and the trajectory of the state governed by them, also represent a microcosm of America under Trump. The governor has demonstrated a willingness to defer to the president instead of his own constituents, sacrifice Georgians’ safety to snipe at his political foes, and shore up his own power at the expense of democracy. In short, Kemp is a wannabe authoritarian, and millions of Georgians have suffered as a result, with no end in sight

trajectory of the state governed by them, also represent a microcosm of America under Trump. The governor has demonstrated a willingness to defer to the president instead of his own constituents, sacrifice Georgians’ safety to snipe at his political foes, and shore up his own power at the expense of democracy. In short, Kemp is a wannabe authoritarian, and millions of Georgians have suffered as a result, with no end in sight.

Kemp has emulated strongmen since he entered state government. In 2018, as Georgia’s secretary of state, Kemp administered his own election by a thin, contested margin, despite calls to resign the office before running for governor. In his previous role, Kemp systematically purged more than 1 million voters from the state’s rolls, disproportionately disenfranchising Georgians of color. More than half a million of those voter registrations were voided in July 2017 alone, months into Kemp’s campaign for governor. Kemp’s office did not respond to a request for an interview, but in the past, he has repeatedly denied that these actions amounted to voter suppression.

In Georgia, and around the world, it has become clear that a novel virus doesn’t respond to the anti-scientific, expertise-shirking preferences of modern authoritarianism. When Kemp announced the closure of the state’s nonessential businesses on April 2, he said it was because he had learned something game-changing about the virus: that it is transmissible before an infected person develops symptoms. In reality, that had been a widely accepted belief for weeks, one that had helped encourage earlier lockdowns around the country. And unlike other states that were slow to shut down, Georgia already had a raging outbreak of nearly 5,000 identified cases. In southwest Georgia in late February, a funeral in the small, majority-Black town of Albany set off a chain of infection that sickened hundreds of people and left the local hospital system overburdened and overpaying for low-quality protective gear.

If a slow shutdown had been Kemp’s only major fumble, he’d be in broad and ideologically varied company both nationally and internationally. Instead, he has continued to double down on the state’s approach to the virus in ways that mirror not just Trump, but authoritarian leaders overseeing poorly controlled outbreaks all over the world, such as Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and India’s Narendra Modi. He has also taken a more hard-line stance than most of his Republican peers. GOP governors in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas have implemented statewide mask rules in response to worsening outbreaks, and others who haven’t, such as Ron DeSantis in Florida and Doug Ducey in Arizona, have still allowed cities and counties to enforce their own local requirements. Not only has Kemp repeatedly refused to require masks in Georgia, but the state’s current pandemic emergency order was written with an explicit restriction to prevent local leaders from implementing their own mask rules.

Kemp’s administration has gone so far as to sue Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms over the city’s mask mandate and its plan to roll back the city’s reopening to its earliest stage, closing bars and restricting restaurants to takeout. When Bottoms fought the lawsuit, Kemp sought to stop her from speaking to the press. Other cities in the state, such as Savannah and Athens, also passed their own mandates but escaped inclusion in the lawsuit, which has pushed some to question whether the governor was trying to punish Bottoms for her support of Joe Biden. A Kemp spokesperson told The Washington Post that the lawsuit was primarily about the new restrictions on businesses in Bottoms’s order, which weren’t present in other municipalities’ mask mandates, but as the paper pointed out, masks were listed as the first issue in the complaint. “One has to ask about the political aspect of a conservative southern governor and a strong supporter of the president having a very public legal action against the Atlanta mayor, who’s been a vocal supporter of Joe Biden,” Harry Heiman, a professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health, told me. Kemp backed down from the lawsuit last week, and Atlanta’s local mandate remains in effect.

None of Kemp’s actions has been popular among the state’s residents. According to findings released last week by the Atlanta-based market-research platform 1Q, 73 percent of Georgians surveyed believe that cities should be able to enforce their own mask mandates, and 70 percent disagree with Kemp’s refusal to institute a mandate statewide. In recent months, his overall approval rating has taken a hit. In May, Kemp was the only governor whose coronavirus response was less popular than the president’s among his own constituents. A recent poll pegged Kemp’s approval rating at 43 percent, down from more than 59 percent in January.

Kemp, like Trump, has recently started to encourage mask usage while still aggressively opposing any kind of enforceable mask rule. The problem with that approach, according to public-health experts, is that it sows confusion, making it more difficult for people to feel confident in their safety. The state’s own messaging has at times been misleading in other ways. On its Department of Public Health website, the state spent months backdating cases to a patient’s first symptoms, which meant that the most recent two weeks of the graph always looked as if the pandemic was in marked decline. The state has also released misleading graphics that it later insisted were honest errors in data rendering, such as a bar graph of case counts with the dates out of chronological order, again depicting a nonexistent downward slope.

In mid-July, two nearly identical maps of Georgia’s coronavirus outbreak began circulating on Twitter, depicting the state’s outbreaks on July 2 and July 17, over which time cases increased significantly. Both maps show only three of the state’s 159 counties shaded in red, marking the most dire spread of the disease. As case counts exploded, the state had raised the number of cases required for a county to change color. Once local media took notice, the state redesigned its map. The public health department’s website also now allows users to sort new coronavirus cases by date of diagnosis, the method used almost exclusively in other government and media visualizations of the pandemic.

Then there is the matter of reopening schools. The state’s accelerated reopening spiked cases just in time for the South’s typically early school calendar to begin, leaving educators, parents, and students to fend for themselves as Kemp urges the resumption of in-person instruction in order to protect kids from non-coronavirus threats such as malnutrition and abuse. But if Kemp’s concerns lie with the safety of the state’s children and the importance of getting them back in the classroom, why didn’t he do more to stop the spread of the virus? Why, instead, did he prioritize sending low-wage workers back to their jobs in bars, restaurants, nail salons, and gyms?

Some of Georgia’s school districts opened this week, and already the system is buckling under the weight of infection: Yesterday, we learned that the state’s outbreak had claimed its youngest victim yet, an otherwise healthy 7-year-old boy. One Cherokee County elementary-school class has already had to be quarantined after a second grader received a positive test result on the first day of school. Earlier this week, a photo from inside North Paulding High School in exurban Atlanta showed a crowded hallway with few teenagers wearing masks. An outbreak has already sickened members of the school’s football team, and students say they fear expulsion if they don’t show up. Two students were suspended for distributing photos of the school’s lax safety measures; at least one of those students has been reinstated following a public outcry over her right to free speech.

Georgia’s public universities, which are preparing for students to come back over the next couple of weeks, provide a bleak view of how the state is managing the dangers that a return to regular life presents for Georgians. For much of this summer, the University System of Georgia refused pleas from faculty and staff to require students to wear masks to class, or to allow individual colleges to make their own mask rules, before eventually relenting and requiring masks. At the University of Georgia, freshmen will still be required to live in cramped on-campus housing, much of which assigns two students to one privacy-free room, even if their classes are remote. For students who attend instruction in person, photos have begun to circulate on social media of the safety measures that await them: a small plexiglass divider loosely affixed to the front of a teacher’s classroom desk, or every other urinal in a public bathroom marked off with painter’s tape. With the majority of students yet to return, UGA already has the third-largest campus outbreak in the country, and Athens, the town where the school is located, ran out of intensive-care beds last week.

Despite all his mistakes, it’s not too late for Kemp to wrangle the pandemic, said Heiman, the Georgia State professor. He told me that a statewide mask mandate; closing bars, gyms, and indoor dining; and clear, consistent messaging from state leadership about pandemic safety can work quickly to limit transmission of the virus, just as such measures have in New York, following that state’s catastrophic outbreak. Once transmission is low, more businesses can be safely reopened, testing supplies and personal protective equipment can be stockpiled, school buildings can be altered for better ventilation, and life can return to something closer to normalcy while Georgians wait for treatments and vaccines to come along.

In order to do that, though, Kemp would have to do something authoritarians hate: admit he was wrong, and change his mind based on evidence, the advice of experts, and the will of the people. The same is true for the country as a whole. America is a few decisions away from a much different future.

Instead, like the authoritarian he’s shown himself to be, Kemp seems intent on maintaining the disastrous course his administration has plotted so far, at the expense of the people of Georgia. “It’s truly unbelievable,” Heiman said. “It will be a case study for decades to come of what an utter collapse of political and public-health leadership looks like.”

The Cynicism of Georgia’s Stacey Abrams

Ms. Abrams has claimed that Mr. Kemp unlawfully purged 1.5 million voters from the rolls, put 53,000 new registrations on hold, created long polling lines on Election Day, and misplaced provisional ballots. She says her “accusations are based entirely on evidence.” Let’s take a look.

.. The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, passed by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Clinton, requires states to keep voter lists “accurate and current” by identifying persons who died or moved, using “uniform, nondiscriminatory” procedures.
.. Georgia’s law to comply with the federal act is similar to Ohio’s, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld this year. It works like this: If the U.S. Postal Service’s change-of-address list shows a Georgia voter has moved or is no longer at his address of record, the state sends him a postage-paid confirmation reply card. It there’s no response for 30 days, the voter is considered “inactive,” but can still vote if he wants.
.. Then there’s the charge of holding up registration applications. This involves the state’s “exact match” law, which requires the last name, first initial, date of birth and other simple information on voter-registration applications match the information in the Social Security database or the Georgia driver’s-license file. If they don’t match, the prospective voter is notified online and by mail, and given 26 months to correct any discrepancy.
.. Meanwhile, he can vote by presenting a valid ID that is “a substantial match” with his application. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently upheld a similar law in Florida.
.. Ms. Abrams herself may be responsible for many of the botched voter applications. Before running for governor, she led a $12.5 million registration drive that paid her $442,000 over three years for serving as its part-time leader. Despite ample resources, Ms. Abrams’s efforts relied on paper forms, not online registration or electronic forms. As a result, many applications contained mistakes or fraudulent signatures.
.. Ms. Abrams’s complaints about long lines at polling places and mishandled provisional ballots are also misplaced. County election boards, not the secretary of state, decide on poll closures, set the number of voting machines, and handle provisional ballots. These local officials are in many cases Democrats, and Ms. Abrams carried the three Atlanta-area counties—Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb—with the most closures, the largest numbers of machines withdrawn from service, and the bulk of provisional-ballot problems.
.. As a rising star on the Democratic left, Ms. Abrams drew millions in donations from the Soros family and billionaire hedge-funder Tom Steyer, as well as campaign appearances by Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and many of the party’s 2020 presidential hopefuls. She lost anyway.
.. Ms. Abrams now cynically claims she’s a victim of election fraud motivated by bigotry. Even in this ugly period of American politics, trying to use defeat in a close election to create racial resentment stands out as dangerous and corrosive. Ms. Abrams’s suit, Fair Fight Action v. Crittenden, is unlikely to have a happy ending. And damaging the state’s reputation won’t help her win future races, no matter how much she says she loves Georgia and wants to serve it. Sometimes you should exit gracefully.

The G.O.P. Goes Full Authoritarian

Only Trump’s flamboyant awfulness stands in the way of his party’s power grab.

Donald Trump, it turns out, may have been the best thing that could have happened to American democracy.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Individual-1 is clearly a wannabe dictator who has contempt for the rule of law, not to mention being corrupt and probably in the pocket of foreign powers. But he’s also lazy, undisciplined, self-absorbed and inept. And since the threat to democracy is much broader and deeper than one man, we’re actually fortunate that the forces menacing America have such a ludicrous person as their public face.

.. If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is “How Democracies Die,” by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. As the authors — professors of government at Harvard — point out, in recent decades a number of nominally democratic nations have become de facto authoritarian, one-party states. Yet none of them have had classic military coups, with tanks in the street.

.. What we’ve seen instead are coups of a subtler form:

  • takeovers or intimidation of the news media,
  • rigged elections that disenfranchise opposing voters,
  • new rules of the game that give the ruling party overwhelming control even if it loses the popular vote,
  • corrupted courts.

.. The classic example is Hungary, where Fidesz, the white nationalist governing party, has effectively

  • taken over the bulk of the media;
  • destroyed the independence of the judiciary;
  • rigged voting to enfranchise supporters and disenfranchise opponents; 
  • gerrymandered electoral districts in its favor; and
  • altered the rules so that a minority in the popular vote translates into a supermajority in the legislature.

Does a lot of this sound familiar? It should. You see, Republicans have been adopting similar tactics — not at the federal level (yet), but in states they control.

.. the states, which Justice Louis Brandeis famously pronounced the laboratories of democracy, “are in danger of becoming laboratories of authoritarianism as those in power rewrite electoral rules, redraw constituencies and even rescind voting rights to ensure that they do not lose.”

.. Thus, voter purges and deliberate restriction of minority access to the polls have become standard practice in much of America. Would Brian Kemp, the governor-elect of Georgia — who oversaw his own election as secretary of state — have won without these tactics? Almost certainly not.

.. you get a lot less reassured if you look at what happened at the state level, where votes often weren’t reflected in terms of control of state legislatures.

Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Wisconsin.

.. Having lost every statewide office in Wisconsin last month, Republicans are using the lame-duck legislative session to drastically curtail these offices’ power, effectively keeping rule over the state in the hands of the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature.

.. What has gotten less emphasis is the fact that G.O.P. legislative control is also undemocratic. Last month Democratic candidates received 54 percent of the votes in State Assembly elections — but they ended up with only 37 percent of the seats.

.. In other words, Wisconsin is turning into Hungary on the Great Lakes, a state that may hold elections, but where elections don’t matter, because the ruling party retains control no matter what voters do.

.. As far as I can tell, not a single prominent Republican in Washington has condemned

  • the power grab in Wisconsin,
  • the similar grab in Michigan, or even
  • what looks like outright electoral fraud in North Carolina.

.. Elected Republicans don’t just increasingly share the values of white nationalist parties like Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice; they also share those parties’ contempt for democracy. The G.O.P. is an authoritarian party in waiting.

.. Which is why we should be grateful for Trump. If he weren’t so flamboyantly awful, Democrats might have won the House popular vote by only 4 or 5 points, not 8.6 points.

.. And in that case, Republicans might have maintained control — and we’d be well along the path to permanent one-party rule.

Instead, we’re heading for a period of divided government, in which the opposition party has both the power to block legislation and, perhaps even more important, the ability to conduct investigations backed by subpoena power into Trump administration malfeasance.

.. But this may be no more than a respite. For whatever may happen to Donald Trump, his party has turned its back on democracy. And that should terrify you.

.. The fact is that the G.O.P., as currently constituted, is willing to do whatever it takes to seize and hold power. And as long as that remains true, and Republicans remain politically competitive, we will be one election away from losing democracy in America.

Last Exit Off the Road to Autocracy

Taxes and health care aren’t the only things on the ballot.

It’s a near-certainty that Democrats will receive more votes than Republicans, with polling suggesting a margin in votes cast for the House of Representatives of seven or more percentage points — which would make it the biggest landslide of modern times. However, gerrymandering and other factors have severely tilted the playing field, so that even this might not be enough to bring control of the chamber.

.. In fact, it’s not hyperbole to say that if the G.O.P. holds the line on Tuesday, it may be the last even halfway fair elections we’ll ever have.

.. Look at what’s happening in Georgia, where Brian Kemp — the Republican secretary of state, who oversees elections — is running for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams. In any other democracy, letting a man supervise his own election would be inconceivable. But that’s how it is in Georgia, and Kemp is abusing his power to the max.

.. In recent years Kemp has purged millions of names from Georgia’s voting rolls, on dubious grounds. Finding himself in a close race despite these efforts, he tried to purge even more based on criteria so spurious that the courts have — for now — blocked his efforts. So over the weekend Kemp’s office issued a warning, with no evidence or specifics, that Democrats may have tried to hack the voter registration site.

A political party with any kind of commitment to democracy and fair play would treat Kemp as a pariah. Instead, he has the full support of the national G.O.P.

.. And Georgia is far from unique. There have been similar if less spectacular attempts to rig the vote in Kansas and North Dakota, where would-be absentee voters were told that they had to use the right color ink— and were given conflicting information about what color was acceptable.

.. The lesson we learn from all these abuses of power is that today’s Republicans are just like their fellow white nationalists in Hungary and Poland, who have maintained a democratic facade but have in reality established one-party authoritarian regimes.

.. Oh, and in case you’re tempted to bothsides this: No, both sides don’t do it. Voting restrictions are almost entirely a Republican thing. As always, Democrats aren’t saints, but they appear to believe in democracy, while their opponents don’t.

.. the media said it anyway), while tending to dismiss talk about Republican abuse of power as hysterical.

 

The Big Blockchain Lie

Now that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have plummeted from last year’s absurdly high valuations, the techno-utopian mystique of so-called distributed-ledger technologies should be next. The promise to cure the world’s ills through “decentralization” was just a ruse to separate retail investors from their hard-earned real money.

.. Faced with the public spectacle of a market bloodbath, boosters have fled to the last refuge of the crypto scoundrel: a defense of “blockchain,” the distributed-ledger software underpinning all cryptocurrencies. Blockchain has been heralded as a potential panacea for everything from poverty and famine to cancer. In fact, it is the most overhyped – and least useful – technology in human history.

In practice, blockchain is nothing more than a glorified spreadsheet. But it has also become the byword for a libertarian ideology that treats all governments, central banks, traditional financial institutions, and real-world currencies as evil concentrations of power that must be destroyed. Blockchain fundamentalists’ ideal world is one in which all economic activity and human interactions are subject to anarchist or libertarian decentralization. They would like the entirety of social and political life to end up on public ledgers that are supposedly “permissionless” (accessible to everyone) and “trustless” (not reliant on a credible intermediary such as a bank).

.. Yet far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalized, and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing. But one need only consider the massive centralization of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers, and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralization and democracy; it is about greed.

For example, a small group of companies – mostly located in such bastions of democracy as Russia, Georgia, and China – control between two-thirds and three-quarters of all crypto-mining activity, and all routinely jack up transaction costs to increase their fat profit margins. Apparently, blockchain fanatics would have us put our faith in an anonymous cartel subject to no rule of law, rather than trust central banks and regulated financial intermediaries.

A similar pattern has emerged in cryptocurrency trading. Fully 99% of all transactions occur on centralized exchanges that are hacked on a regular basis. And, unlike with real money, once your crypto wealth is hacked, it is gone forever.

.. Moreover, the centralization of crypto development – for example, fundamentalists have named Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin a “benevolent dictator for life” – already has given lie to the claim that “code is law,” as if the software underpinning blockchain applications is immutable. The truth is that the developers have absolute power to act as judge and jury. When something goes wrong in one of their buggy “smart” pseudo-contracts and massive hacking occurs, they simply change the code and “fork” a failing coin into another one by arbitrary fiat, revealing the entire “trustless” enterprise to have been untrustworthy from the start.

.. Lastly, wealth in the crypto universe is even more concentrated than it is in North Korea. Whereas a Gini coefficient of 1.0 means that a single person controls 100% of a country’s income/wealth, North Korea scores 0.86, the rather unequal United States scores 0.41, and Bitcoin scores an astonishing 0.88.

As should be clear, the claim of “decentralization” is a myth propagated by the pseudo-billionaires who control this pseudo-industry. Now that the retail investors who were suckered into the crypto market have all lost their shirts, the snake-oil salesmen who remain are sitting on piles of fake wealth that will immediately disappear if they try to liquidate their “assets.”

.. Moreover, in cases where distributed-ledger technologies – so-called enterprise DLT – are actually being used, they have nothing to do with blockchain. They are private, centralized, and recorded on just a few controlled ledgers. They require permission for access, which is granted to qualified individuals. And, perhaps most important, they are based on trusted authorities that have established their credibility over time. All of which is to say, these are “blockchains” in name only.