For years, the media shredded Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for a statement on Meet The Press interview on January 22, 2017, in which she defended White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on attendance numbers at the inauguration. Conway insisted that, while Chuck Todd was citing one set of numbers, Spicer was giving “alternative facts”. The statement produced a firestorm of ridicule that the Trump White House was constructing an alternate reality. That is not the response however to the repeated misrepresentations of the Georgia election law by President Joe Biden — false statements criticized even by the Washington Post. Likewise, there was little response this week when Press Secretary Jen Psaki defended the alternative facts presented the White House and some media outlets, even after another major newspaper called out the same false statements about the law.
During an interview on ESPN, Biden repeated his claim that the law is “Jim Crow on steroids” and added: “Imagine passing a law saying you cannot provide water or food for someone standing in line to vote, can’t do that? C’mon! Or you’re going to close a polling place at 5 o’clock when working people just get off?”
As we previously discussed, it is hard to “imagine” because it is not true and the White House knows that it is not true. I will not repeat the clearly false claim about closing polling places early. As the Washington Post noted, “the net effect [of the Georgia law] is … to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgians, not limit them.” The use of the provision to suggest a reduction in voting hours was a knowing misrepresentation by those seeking to justify the federalization of election laws in Congress. Despite being called out on the false statement, President Biden continues to repeat it.
The water claim is equally disingenuous and false. The law does not prevent people from giving water to those standing in line. The law allows “self-service water from an unattended receptacle” for voters waiting in line. It also allows anyone to give water or food to any voters outside of limited area around the polling place. The change in the language followed complaints in the last elections that campaigns were circumventing the rules by distributing water and food within the limited area. It makes no sense to bar people from politicking in the area if they can display the same political identifications in approaching people in line for the purpose of giving away free food or drink. Instead, it allows for non-partisan distribution of water in these receptacles. If the concern is truly for the waiting voters, it should not matter that the water is distributed without a political affiliation.
Recently, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) became the latest newspaper to issue a correction on the same claim made in a story on the law. The newspaper added at the end of a story on liberal filmmaker and actor Tyler Perry criticism of the law the following:
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story said the new law would limit voting hours. On Election Day in Georgia, polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and if you are in line by 7 p.m., you are allowed to cast your ballot. Nothing in the new law changes those rules.
However, the law made some changes to early voting. The bill adds a second mandatory Saturday of early voting for general elections but removes two weeks of early voting before runoffs.
Psaki was confronted by Fox News with Biden’s continued false statements about the law and she proceeded to double down. In a remarkably disingenuous moment, Psaki responded “It standardizes the ending of voting every day at five, right? It just gives options. It gives options to expand it, right, but it standardized it at five. It also makes it so that outside groups can’t provide water or food to people in line, right?”
The points are ridiculous and Psaki knew it. The law made mandatory the full day of voting to guarantee those hours while allowing the same option of other states to remain open until 7 pm. The change was meant to prevent shorter hours under a prior ambiguity in the law.
Yet, there was no hue and cry over “alternative facts.” Biden is supporting a boycott of a state based on false assertions about a law and most of the media is complicit in maintaining that false narrative. There are aspects to this law that may warrant such opposition by not the two primary reasons cited by Biden.
Psaki’s alternative facts are now part of an alternate reality being constructed in Washington with the help of an enabling media. Take the push by Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for the MLB to play its All-Star Game in New York. Schumer insists that in New York “we are working to make it easier, not harder, to vote.” However, New York has some harsher rules than those contained in Georgia. For example, there are fewer early voting days than Georgia and a restriction on passing out food and water over $1 in value to voters in line. New York also requires an excuse to request an absentee ballot.
So, if Georgia is “Jim Crow on steroids,” what is the New York law?
The insistence that this law is worse than the Jim Crow laws is to misrepresent history. The Jim Crow laws involved raw and open racial segregation and discrimination. The defeat of these laws were a defining moment in our struggle against racism.
Once again, there are legitimate issues to be discussed on voting systems, including the effort to federalize election laws. However, we need to have that debate with an honest and accurate factual foundation. Law professors and commentators who were vocal in denouncing the false legal claims of the Trump administration are silent today. At the same time, some like former Clinton adviser Marc Elias have been criticized for using offensive arguments to push the campaign against Georgia.
When Conway made her comment, a group of law professors led by Georgetown Professor Abbe Smith filed a bar complaint against her. The complaint was in my view completely meritless, but received widespread acclaim. (For the record, Conway is a former student of mine from George Washington University).
Psaki is not a lawyer but the silence on her defense of these false representations by the President is deafening. Trump made false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd. This is a false claim about a law being used to support a boycott of an entire state (and a major argument for federalizing state election rules). One would think that the call for accuracy would be even greater in this context.