Georgia election reform hearings may undo the legacy of hate

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Georgia election reform hearings may undo the legacy of hate

In 1964, the federal government reacted to a shameful but undeniable truth, that in many places in our country the most fundamental element of American freedom, the right to vote in a fair election process, was not only failing, it was being intentionally misused. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was targeted at racial segregation, including the practical denial of free voting rights to black Americans through various election limitations and requirements. During the long and contested process of pushing and passing that Act, states and localities that saw the momentum building and did not approve of it, made plans to offset the new law as best they could.

In Georgia, as in most other places, the two major parties controlled the offices of government. To the extent that these parties could, within themselves, limit the access of a rising black community to candidacy and thus elected office, they could maintain effective segregation; unless the black community went around the major parties and directly to the ballot. The answer was to institute non-racial but generically anti-independent/anti-alternative party election rules — rules designed to practically limit candidates for office to only those from the Republican and Democratic parties. In 1964, the State of Georgia did just that.

Since 1964, no independent or minor party candidate for Congress has managed to satisfy the Georgia petition requirements for getting on the ballot.

No other state in the nation can claim such an awful legacy.

Nearly five decades later, this is no longer about race. Were we to have a 47-year history of nothing but the best, most honest and incorruptible candidates advance to elected office, such statistics would be moot. Yet that is not the case and cannot be expected.

In the coming weeks, the Office of the Georgia Secretary of State will conduct two public hearings on the issue of election law reform. They are under-publicized and may only be intended to fulfill 2010 campaign promises, made in answer to strong public sentiment regarding the situation. If they receive only limited response and attention, the issue will be deemed “addressed” by those in power and pushed off once again, decades into the future.

Now is the time for you to make a date to personally, physically go and contribute to the fulfillment of America’s promise.

Calm but forceful, passionate but clear, Georgia citizens in large numbers from every social, political and ideological camp, must attend and lend their voice to these meetings.

The first hearing is to be held on Wednesday, April 27 at 10am in Room 341 of the Georgia Capital Building in Atlanta.

The second hearing is in Savannah, Georgia on Wednesday, May 25 at 1pm in the Savannah Marriott Riverfront Hotel, at 100 General McIntosh Boulevard.

Further details and directions are available through the Secretary of State website for the Elections Advisory Council (www.sos.ga.gov/GAEAC/) or by calling (404) 656-4269.

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Free & Equal is a nonpartisan, non-profit public-policy advocacy organization dedicated to election reform and improving ballot access laws in the United States.