The debate over Senate Bill 202, Georgia’s controversial new elections reform law, continues.
While some members of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners want the county to sue the state over some portions of the law they said are forms of voter suppression, others support it.
“This is a really tough issue,” District 3 Commissioner Lee Morris said. “I’m old enough to remember the days when I participated in marches and protests about the unfairness in this country for people of color. I was glad to be involved in those protests. … If I were voting (on this law), I would not have included all of those issues in the bill, but there are some things that I think are improvements in the way we vote.
“I worry really about the divisiveness on both sides, and I understand there’s no way a white man in America could understand the feelings the people of color have about these issues. … I wish we could find some common ground on some of these things. I appreciate it and I hear you. I think all of this will be resolved in the courts, quite frankly. If the courts don’t overturn SB 202, and I’m not sure there’s a chance to overturn it, maybe the ballot box would do that. But I would love to see the day when we don’t have voter suppression and Jim Crow laws. I’m hopeful my grandchildren grow up (without them).”
Morris was one of several commissioners who spoke about the law at the board’s April 14 meeting, where the group voted 4-2 to approve a resolution supporting voters’ rights and stopping voter suppression, targeting SB 202. The meeting was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commissioners Natalie Hall, Marvin Arrington Jr., Khadijah Abdur-Rahman and Robb Pitts (Districts 4 through 6 and chair), all Democrats, voted yes, and Morris and District 2 Commissioner Bob Ellis, both Republicans, dissented. GOP District 1 Commissioner Liz Hausmann was absent.
The meeting came one day after Abdur-Rahman, the resolution’s sponsor, held a news conference announcing her and other commissioners’ intentions of filing a lawsuit against the state over SB 202.
The resolution’s vote was held over from the March 17 meeting, and the law was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp March 25 after being passed by the House and Senate on that day after an earlier version was approved by the Senate March 8.
Its reforms include requiring voters to provide an ID when returning an absentee ballot after previously using signature match method to verify them; mandating absentee ballots must be requested by no less than 11 days prior to an election, about a week earlier than previously; limiting the use of ballot drop-boxes and forbidding passing out water or food within 25 feet of individuals waiting in line to vote.
Commissioners supporting the resolution also said they’re in favor of House Resolutions 1 and 4, two federal bills that would provide more voting rights for Americans, according to Congress’ website. In essence, they would nullify SB 202.
Abdur-Rahman, in response to Ellis earlier saying he believes the idea that SB 202 amounts to voter suppression is “partisan rhetoric,” said she respectfully disagrees.
“I don’t see it as partisan,” she said. “I see it as Fulton County being on the right side of history, and I see it as over 2,000 phone calls that I received. Were all those phone calls in support of it? No, but will tell you at least 1,700 of them were. So I did not enter into this legislation, this resolution lightly. I had conversations. I walked. I talked. I had an outpouring of people all over Georgia, not just in Fulton County.”
The voting rights item was one of four resolutions regarding controversial subjects the board was to vote on during its meeting. It also voted 4-2 to approve a resolution to create a county reparations task force to look into the possibility of paying Black residents who are the descendants of slaves funds to atone for slavery and past discrimination tied to it.
Hall and Arrington, who sponsored the resolution along with Abdur-Rahman, both talked about Evanston, Illinois, where Hall grew up, last month becoming the nation’s first city to make reparations available to its Black residents who qualify. It’s paying $25,000 to each one ($400,000 total).
“That’s why I think it would be prudent to establish a task force to tell us if there should be an amount at all,” Arrington said. “The task force may come back and tell us, ‘Hey, we don’t think there’s anything due.’ We would have the right to accept or reject that recommendation at that time.”
Two other resolutions regarding the decision to uphold or reject the Fulton Board of Registration and Elections’ February firing of Director Richard Barron, also held from the March 17 meeting, were held again so County Attorney Kaye Burwell could finish her report on whether or not the board of commissioners had the right to accept or reject the elections board’s decisions.
Burwell had previously said the board of commissioners could do so, but her predecessor, Patrise Perkins-Hooker, who retired in January, said it doesn’t. Pitts said the report comes after Burwell looked at about a dozen different government entities to gain some consistency with Fulton’s own legality on the issue. Barron remains on the job until the matter is resolved.
Of the 27 individuals who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion, 20 said they support SB 202 and five said they didn’t, 13 supported upholding Barron’s firing and one didn’t and 10 were against reparations and one was in favor of them.
“I support Commissioner Ellis’ resolution to uphold Barron’s firing,” Melissa Dale of Milton said. “I support SB 202. I’ve been made aware of talk about reparations for Fulton County. How do you decide who gets the funds? I wasn’t aware that all white Americans are descendants of slave owners and all Black Americans are the descendants of slaves. In the words of Dr. King, ‘the old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.’”
On the flip side, Sheila Hamilton of College Park said, “As a Black woman in America and a District 6 resident, I see the same Jim Crow tactics. The difference is it’s Jim Crow in a suit and tie. … The more you put your foot on our necks, the more we will fight. Also, I’m against SB 202.”