As a rank-and-file union proud of our democratic traditions, UE condemns the voter suppression bill passed in Georgia last month, as well as the hundreds of similar bills being pushed in state legislatures across the country, overwhelmingly by Republican politicians.
The right to vote is fundamental to democracy, and restrictions on the right to vote harm the entire working class. As we noted in our October statement on the elections, “Corporations and the wealthy already are able to buy influence on government policy. One of the few counterbalances to this is the fact that politicians have to face the mass of voters every two, four or six years. If incumbents can simply declare that certain categories of voters don’t matter, corporate influence on our government will only increase and the working class will suffer even more.”
The voters who will be disenfranchised by these bills are predominantly working-class people and people of color, leading protestors to dub the Georgia bill “Jim Crow 2.0.” Like the Jim Crow segregation laws of the 20th century, the purpose of these bills is to undemocratically keep a wealthy white elite in power, at the expense of everybody else.
While the Georgia bill’s prohibition of providing food and water to voters waiting in line has grabbed headlines, perhaps more ominous is its blanket invitation to private voter-suppression groups to make unlimited challenges to Georgians’ right to vote — essentially privatizing the work of voter suppression.
This is not a hypothetical threat. True the Vote, a Texas group funded in part by the anti-union billionaire Koch Brothers, challenged the eligibility of 364,541 Georgia voters last December, just prior to the Senate run-off elections. This attempt to disenfranchise over a third of a million people only failed because county elections boards overruled the challenges. The new law both specifically allows unlimited challenges and undermines the authority of county elections boards to reject such voter suppression tactics.
Efforts to suppress the vote are not limited to Georgia — 361 voter-suppression bills have been introduced already this year, 55 are moving through state legislatures in 24 states, and five, including Georgia’s, have been signed into law. The authors of these bills have attempted to justify them by claiming massive voter fraud in the 2020 election, despite the fact that there is no evidence of any substantial fraud in that election or in any other.
Suppression of voting rights and suppression of union rights go hand in hand. Many of the same politicians who push and benefit from voter suppression are also virulently anti-union, and have used their majorities in state legislatures to restrict workers’ ability to join unions and bargain collectively. Ironically, the anti-union laws passed in Wisconsin in 2011 and Iowa in 2017 require public-sector unions to regularly engage in “recertification” elections in which the unions must win a majority of all eligible voters, not just of those voting — which turns not voting into a de facto “no” vote. So while these politicians are greasing their own path to victory by stopping many members of the public from voting, they are trying to break the labor movement by counting the votes of those who don’t even choose to participate.
We support protests against the Georgia law and other voter-suppression efforts, and urge UE locals in all states to be on the alert for efforts to restrict voting rights. We also urge Congress to pass the For the People Act (S. 1), the most significant federal voting rights bill since 1965, which will stop the ability of right-wing state legislatures to undermine American democracy.
Director of Organization