Each December, the Poynter Institute’s fact-checking website PolitiFact singles out one political statement as its “Lie of the Year.” According to the site’s editor, the term is reserved for “the most harmful and egregious falsehood we’ve seen after a year of fact-checking.” In 2021, PolitiFact applied the label to the campaign to whitewash the Jan. 6 Trump-instigated riot at the Capitol. Previous “Lies of Year” included claims that the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre was a hoax (2018), wild exaggerations about the Ebola virus (2014), and Barack Obama’s constant assurance that no one’s health insurance would be canceled if the Affordable Care Act were passed (2013).
As PolitiFact considers which falsehood to spotlight for 2022, its researchers might want to focus on the election in Georgia, where early voting in the general election got underway on Oct. 17.
Georgia voters have been smashing turnout records. As of Tuesday morning, more than 1.8 million early ballots had been cast. At the same point in the 2018 midterm elections, just 1.3 million people had voted. Black voter turnout has been especially strong. In a press release on Oct. 21, the advocacy group Black Votes Matter exulted: “Black Voters in Georgia have done it again!” Approximately 30 percent of the ballots cast to date have come from Black voters — proof, the release cheered, that “Black voters are deeply engaged in this election cycle.”
To anyone who heeded the words of liberals and Democrats from President Biden on down, this must come as a jaw-dropping surprise. Georgia’s election is being conducted under new voting rules enacted by the Legislature and signed by Governor Brian Kemp last year — a law that a deafening chorus insisted over and over was designed to restrict voters’ ability to vote and to disenfranchise Black citizens. Again and again, Georgia’s law was characterized as a racist scheme to reimpose the antidemocratic bigotry of the pre-civil rights South.
Republican lawmakers in Georgia, asserted an essay published by the Brookings Institution, were “taking their cues from the old white supremacy playbook, which teaches: If you can’t win fair and square, then suppress the vote.” That accusation was repeated endlessly over the airwaves, on editorial pages, and in corporate boardrooms. Even Major League Baseball jumped on the bandwagon, stripping Atlanta of the All-Star Game to demonstrate opposition to the new law.
But the most influential denunciation of Georgia’s revised election rules came from the American with the biggest bully pulpit. On numerous occasions in 2021, Biden castigated the new law as a “21st century Jim Crow assault” or “Jim Crow on steroids.” In January, he traveled to Georgia and tore into the Republicans who had passed the measure as the equivalent of “Bull Connor” and “Jefferson Davis.”
Before an audience in Atlanta, Biden declared that “Jim Crow 2.0 is about two insidious things: voter suppression and election subversion.” Georgia’s election reforms were “designed to suppress your vote,” he declared. “It’s not hyperbole; this is a fact.”
But it wasn’t a fact. It was a falsehood — a falsehood so harmful and egregious that it ought to be a candidate for PolitiFact’s highest mark of dishonor.
Notwithstanding the tsunami of invective, those who took the trouble to analyze Georgia’s voting changes knew they were intended to boost, not suppress, participation in elections. “This new law will expand voting access in the Peach State,” Kemp predicted at the signing ceremony. Sure enough, when Georgians voted in their state’s primary in May, the early voting turnout broke every previous record. That didn’t silence the “Jim Crow” accusers, who maintained that high turnout in a primary proved little, since Republicans’ suppression tactics were crafted with the general election in mind.
Well, Georgia’s general election is here and voter enthusiasm is again off the charts. Allegations that voters were thwarted have again proven false. Just days before early balloting commenced, US District Judge Steve Jones issued a sweeping judgment against Stacey Abrams, the Democrats’ nominee for governor in Georgia’s last two elections. Abrams, who claimed she was robbed of victory in 2018 by nefarious racist Republican machinations, took her charges to federal court. In a lengthy Sept. 30 ruling, Jones — who is Black, a Democrat, and an Obama appointee — found that Abrams’s charges were without merit and that there had been no unlawful voter suppression in Georgia.
“Jim Crow 2.0” was a lie. So was “Jim Crow on steroids.” Democracy is alive and well in Georgia, as throngs of early voters, white and Black alike, are proving. The state’s governor and lawmakers are entitled to an apology. They probably shouldn’t hold their breath waiting.