Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Georgia legislators have a 'fix' for early voting

In the 2012 presidential election, early voting and weekend voting were so popular in Cobb, Gwinnett, Fulton and DeKalb counties that voters sometimes had to wait hours at early-voting locations. And by Election Day, despite the fact that 1.9 million voters statewide had used the early-voting option, voting lines were still hours long in places.

Never fear, though. The Georgia Legislature knows how to “fix” that problem.

Under a bill making its way through the House, the number of potential early voting days will be slashed almost in half for the 2016 presidential election, from 21 days to 12 days. (it was 45 days just a few years ago.) Weekend voting opportunities will be slashed as well. Such changes are all but certain to make voting lines even longer, both on the truncated early-voting schedule as well as on Election Day.

Why? It’s an interesting question.

Cynics might point out African-American and other minority voters, who tend to vote Democratic, comprised a disproportionately large share of those who voted early in 2012. If you restrict early voting, you create longer lines and discourage participation by those voters.

Of course, the Republican legislators pushing House Bill 194 assure us that partisan advantage has nothing whatsoever to do with the change. It’s just that in smaller, rural counties, the expense of offering extended early voting and weekend voting just isn’t justified, with precinct workers often sitting there doing nothing. They defend the legislation in terms of uniformity, with every county in the state abiding by the same basic if reduced voting schedule.

“Uniform,” however, should not be confused with either “fair” or “practical.”

Look at the numbers: Eight Georgia counties have populations of less than 5,000. Thirty-two have populations of less than 10,000. Sixty Georgia counties have populations of less than 20,000. Ninety-three of the state’s 159 counties have populations of less than 30,000.

Somehow, I doubt that voters in those communities had to wait hours to cast their ballots in 2012, as did many voters in Fulton County, with 977,000 residents; or Gwinnett County, with 840,000 residents; or DeKalb and Cobb, both with more than 700,000. Early voting in those smaller counties is far less necessary as a “safety valve” to prevent nightmares come Election Day than it is in urban areas.

National data back up that conclusion. According to an MIT study, “rural areas had the shortest wait times and cities had the longest” in 2012, with average waits in urban, densely populated ZIP codes more than triple the wait time in rural ZIP codes. When broken down by race, “African Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to 12 minutes for whites; Hispanics waited 19 minutes.”

Putting all counties, large or small, on the same truncated schedule doesn’t give voters a uniform opportunity to vote. It’s “Procrustean,” named after a figure in Greek mythology. As a good host, Procrustes wanted to make sure that all of his guests fit comfortably in the bed that he provided, and since he only had one bed, that posed a challenge. His solution was to hack off the legs of those too tall for the bed, while those who were too short would be stretched out on the rack.

It was, you know, uniform.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.