Many Democrats have made “voter suppression” their rallying cry, accusing Republicans of undermining the right to vote. Lately they point to the Georgia primaries June 9, when voters stood in line for hours, and precincts had to be kept open until after midnight to accommodate those still waiting at the 8 p.m. closing time. Thousands of absentee ballots never arrived in the mailboxes of people who requested them.
Former President Barack Obama invoked voter suppression in a fundraising appeal for a Democratic dark-money group, attacking “bad-faith politicians”—of which party you can guess—who “try to silence your voice.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder echoed him, decrying the “blatant voter disenfranchisement” the GOP unleashed in Georgia. Hillary Clinton said the Georgia debacle “was by design” and “a threat to our democracy.”
Democratic candidates have taken up the cry. Texas state Sen. Royce West, who’s seeking the party’s U.S. Senate nomination, cited Georgia in declaring “the GOP knows their only path to victory involves suppressing the vote.” Vice presidential hopeful Stacey Abrams blamed Georgia’s Republican secretary of state for the “unmitigated disaster” in the primary.
When Kentucky officials announced that Tuesday’s primary would be held with fewer than 200 polling locations rather than the normal 3,700, even King James—basketball legend LeBron—tweeted, “This is SYSTEMATIC RACISM and OPPRESSION. So angry man.” He’d earlier written that Georgia’s primary raised the question “if how we vote is also structurally racist.”
The problem? Votes weren’t suppressed.
The Georgia primary turnout was the largest in state history. While Kentucky’s results won’t be announced before June 30, officials there also expect to beat the state’s record, from 2008. It hardly sounds as if the vote was suppressed. But even if it were, the ex-president and the NBA megastar would be wrong to blame Republicans.
In Georgia, counties run elections. They set polling places, allocate voting machines, mail absentee ballots, recruit and train election workers, supervise Election Day and tally the results. The problems in the Georgia primary were centered in Fulton and DeKalb counties. Fulton contains Atlanta, while DeKalb includes the largely black suburbs directly east.
Democrats control both the Fulton and DeKalb county governments. DeKalb’s board of commissioners consists of six Democrats and one Republican. Fulton’s has four Democrats and three Republicans. DeKalb board chairman Steve Bradshaw and Fulton chairman Robb Pitts are African-American Democrats.
The commissions in turn elect chairmen of boards of registration and elections. Both counties’ election boards consist of two Republicans and three Democrats, including their Democratic chairmen. It was these Democrat-run county governments that ran the elections that Mr. Obama, Mrs. Clinton and other progressives savaged as Republican voter suppression efforts.
In Kentucky, the reduction in the number of precincts and expansion of mail-in voting were both due to coronavirus concerns detailed in an executive order signed by the state’s Democratic governor, Andy Beshear. The elections were also run by counties.
Louisville, Kentucky’s biggest city, has a consolidated city-county government. The mayor is a Democrat, while the county clerk is a Republican. They centralized in-person voting at a 1.2-million-square-foot convention hall with 350 socially distanced voting stations. Yet with massive numbers of mail-in ballots, voter participation surged. Other than a rush before the 6 p.m. close, wait times were low at the convention center. There were more problems in Fayette County, home to Lexington, the state’s second most populous city. The county’s executive, clerk and most of its elections board are Democrats.
If Democrats want to keep crying “voter suppression,” they should direct their complaints to the local governments involved, starting with the Democrats running Fulton and DeKalb counties. Until then, Americans are justified in writing off the attacks from progressives as ignorance or cynical attempts to stoke racial division for partisan gain.
This isn’t to say Americans are without election worries. Increased reliance on mail-in ballots means more situations like California’s in 2018, when winners weren’t known for weeks. Many candidates leading on Election Day may lose when mail-in ballots trickle in days later. This will undermine confidence in the outcomes, especially in close contests and if states mail ballots to “inactives”—people on registration rolls who haven’t voted for at least six years, many of whom the Postal Service says no longer reside at the addresses on file.
Along with intervention by foreign powers, these are real shenanigans that could undermine confidence in U.S. elections. We should be worried about them, not false cries of voter suppression.