In late February, Minority House Leader James Beverly threatened to withhold Democratic votes from Georgia’s sports betting bill. He and other Democratic community leaders hoped that leverage would stop the voter suppression legislation bills in Georgia. Democratic votes would fill the gap left by religious conservatives who oppose gambling as a first principle. But withholding Democratic votes didn’t take the sports betting bill down. Georgia lawmakers just missed the deadline to consider the bill.
It’s not exactly the triumphant victory for ballot access Georgia Democrats had in mind.
But there’s one sports betting bill left. The bill would change Georgia’s constitution to allow sports betting. It would take longer than passing a bill legalizing sports betting outright, but deadlines are deadlines. (You can’t see my eye roll, but it’s there.) The constitutional amendment would have to pass both chambers with a two-thirds majority, then Georgians would vote on the measure in November 2022.
Even if the constitutional amendment sailed through both chambers and voters approved it, sports betting wouldn’t come to Georgia until at least 2023. Since potential revenue is at least two years away, threatening to torpedo this attempt at sports betting doesn’t have the same punch.
And Georgia Republicans are still introducing voter suppression laws. Most recently, on March 17.
The Great Bait And Switch
On March 17, one Georgia committee was scheduled to discuss a two-page bill focused on absentee voting. Instead, it unveiled a 93-page bill that included a provision that would let any Georgian challenge any votes they wanted. In the wake of an election marred by false voter fraud claims, it’s alarming.
And withholding Democratic votes on sports betting isn’t going to fix that.
It also didn’t stop the Georgia House and Senate from passing bills ending no-excuse absentee voting a week apart from each other. However, high-level Republicans don’t support this bill. For starters, Republicans legalized mail-in voting 16 years ago. But instead of standing up to their colleagues, five Republicans abstained from voting on the bill–including the President of the Senate, who won’t preside over the vote. It’s what you’d expect from the party of personal responsibility.
Georgia’s Newest International Disgrace
Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that makes these bills look friendly. According to CNN, here are a few things Senate Bill 202 does:
- Creates new voter ID laws, including sending a copy of a government-issued photo ID with absentee ballots.
- Lets state officials wrest control of election boards from local authorities.
- Limits ballot boxes.
- Makes giving food and water to people waiting in line a crime.
It’s easy to see why the last three points are so insidious. Letting the people trying to win reelection meddle in certain districts is questionable. Ballot boxes are convenient ways to drop ballots off. And of course, keeping people in line to vote is critical to increasing voter turnout. But voter ID laws are a form of voter suppression because they disproportionately affect Black voters. According to the ACLU, up to a quarter of Black Americans don’t have a government-issued photo ID, compared to 8% of white Americans. As a result, voter ID laws can decrease voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points.
If that doesn’t sound like much, Joe Biden flipped Georgia by 0.2% of the vote. In 2016, Donald Trump won Michigan by 0.3% of the vote. They make a difference. Since Republicans control Georgia’s House, Senate, and Governorship, they can pass voter suppression laws that just so happen to help their side. And in the span of a few hours, Georiga’s Republican government made it harder for the people most likely to vote against them to vote. And they slapped George Orwell out of his grave by calling this bill the Election Integrity Act.
One Democratic lawmaker was also arrested for knocking on Governor Kemp’s door while he signed the bill into law. Representative Park Cannon been charged with a felony and misdemeanor. Arresting political opponents on trumped-up charges has an ugly authoritarian history. But doing that on the back of signing a voter restriction bill that addresses voter security issues that don’t exist.
Withholding Democratic votes to pass sports betting seems like a poor solution.
Why Withholding Democratic Sports Betting Votes Is Ineffective
The problem with withholding Democratic votes is it only works on issues where Republicans are split. Religious and social conservatives may not vote for gambling expansion. So, Democrats have to fill the void to get half the chamber on board.
But Democrats are the minority party. So Republicans don’t need Democrats to pass bills that favor Republicans. The best that Democrats could do when the sports betting bills were in committee was to ensure sports betting tax revenue went to needs-based scholarships. That’s a progress of a kind. But it’s not going to block voter suppression laws or invalidate conspiracy theories about the 2020 election. That fight is being fought elsewhere.
Hope In Washington
While Democrats are the minority in Georgia, they control Congress and the White House. They’ve been busy, too. Congress is working through two election reform bills: the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.
The For the People Act would mandate:
- Automatic voter registration for federal elections.
- Election Day registration.
- Early voting.
- Non-partisan redistricting.
- Voting rights to former felons.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Act would require states with recent cases of voter discrimination to approve election changes with either the courts or the Justice Department. (Looking at you, Georgia.)
Democrats still have to grapple with the challenge of passing these bills without the necessary supermajority. But these bills can make the difference for Georgia bettors that Georgia Democrats don’t have the power to make by withholding votes on side issues. If anyone wants to get involved fighting against voter suppression in Georgia–and anywhere else–calling on your congressmen and congresswomen to support these bills is a good place to start.
Oh Yeah. We’re A Sports Betting Site
One of Georgia’s sports betting bills has been shelved until the next legislative session and the other wouldn’t have a chance of going into effect until 2022. Depriving Georgia of a potential new revenue source and killing a Republican’s bill doesn’t have the leverage it would if the bill’s effects were immediate. (The new revenue from sports betting could offset the need for a tax increase, but likely do little else for the state budget shot term.) But in hindsight, that’s not even the biggest reason leveraging sports betting to stop voter suppression bills can’t work.
When I wrote about this the first time, I went through the ways the “sports betting standoff” could end. I didn’t bother to say whether it could work, so I’ll say it now. Withholding sports betting votes would only work if Republicans valued sports betting legislation as much as voter suppression legislation. Voter suppression bills have more long-term value to Georgia Republicans than sports betting. Taking credit for a new industry is one thing. But securing long-term political power is a much better prize.
Sports betting may not be coming to Georgia anytime soon. The legislative calendar has pushed that out by at least a year and a half. Voter suppression laws remain the biggest legislative story coming out of Georgia. But when the next big sports betting news will be its appearance on next year’s ballot, not even our online magazine’s focus on sports betting can sidestep Georgia’s voter suppression laws.