When writer Ian Fleming created super spy James Bond, he knew a good villain was just as important as the hero of the story. Fleming based many of Bond’s villains on actual people, because let’s be honest, regular people do some pretty horrible things. Wholesale evil schemes don’t have to come from the mind of a mustache-swirling, albino cat petting, uniquely scarred megalomaniac from Eastern Europe hiding out in a chateau made from stolen moon rocks.
Take the evil of voter suppression in the 2018 midterms for example. That wasn’t a scheme from diabolical Russians. It came from lazy state attorneys, racist Republican elected officials and complicit secretaries of state. During the 2018 elections in Georgia, Secretary of State Brian Kemp was the villain, overseeing his own gubernatorial election and stealing a victory from Stacey Abrams. But now, like the Bond franchise, we have another villain willing to step into the breach. State Rep. Barry Fleming (no relation to Ian, so far as we know) has put forth a bill in the Georgia legislature that won’t just steal the 2020 Georgia election for Donald Trump, it will steal every single election in the state of Georgia for the next 20 years.
Dr. No would be proud.
The 2018 election in Georgia was an absolute debacle. Hundreds of thousands of votes went missing; functioning voting machines were left idle while mostly black voters waited in lines for hours; glitchy machines switched votes—not to mention the thousands of absentee ballots that were not sent or not counted. The election was such an embarrassment that Republicans and Democrats came together in the new legislature to replace voting machines with programming so antiquated that Clippy was using a flip-phone.
Most legislators realized that the best, least hackable voting machines use paper ballots. The voter can either fill out the paper ballot by hand and the votes are scanned like at your local grocery store, or the machine prints out every vote on a receipt that voters can see immediately and tell a poll worker if anything shady happens. This makes a lot of sense right? Paper ballots machines are cheaper, easy to check and don’t require nearly as much updated software every few cycles. Republicans and Democrats seemed to agree with this plan, but that’s when Barry Fleming donned his dark cloak and evil grin to push through House Bill 316.
HB 316 calls for the state to purchase new voting machines that have paper ballots, with one strange caveat: The paper ballots will have the written name of the candidate, but the actual vote will be recorded on a bar code that only the machines can read. Now, unless you’re Neo in The Matrix, nobody knows how to read bar code, so it’s perfectly possible that some corrupt politician, or “glitch,” or foreign power could hack into the voting machines and have the bar code read something different than the actual writing. Why would a ballot have what amounts to “small print” unless you were trying to hide something? Like all villains, Fleming is arrogant and couldn’t help but unintentionally brag about his evil plans because he believed nobody would stop him.
Despite ironically representing the city of Harlem, Ga., Barry Fleming has spent his entire legislative career finding ways to harass and suppress black voters. Fleming was described to me by one state official as “….Every single racist politician from a movie about the 1950s. He wouldn’t even have to change his outfits.” He supported sending the police to 180 black voters homes to “check” on their voter registrations. He challenged the legitimacy of 17 percent of black voters in Sparta, Ga., and has been in favor of cutting early voting in Georgia from 16 to 6 days, and in some cases he supported giving small towns only ONE day to vote. However, Fleming and his bill aren’t just villains to black voters and marginalized citizens, he’s managed to make enemies of everyone.
That bastion of left wokeness, FreedomWorks? A “policy” organization that is linked to the far right and what’s left of the Tea Party? Even they have come forward to criticize HB 316 and how the new machines are not only susceptible to hacking but also that the entire bidding process is a crony kickback for Gov. Brian Kemp’s friends and political loyalists. Recent polling of Georgia voters has shown that many prefer paper ballots and substantive voting reform in the state, and not just the same evil voter suppression schemes masquerading as progress. Even the Atlanta Journal Constitution, which has certainly not held voter suppressing politicians like Fleming accountable in the past, conducted a poll showing that almost 55 percent of Georgia voters would prefer hand marked paper ballots filled out by voters or the machine. Behind the scenes in the Atlanta capital, while Republicans passed the bill in the House, many have expressed tacit hope that the bill will die in the Senate later this week, or at least that an amendment will be added so the new paper ballots only have written votes tallied, not computer Sanskrit that nobody can read.
There is some hope, however. Perhaps the Georgia Senate will realize that turning the Peach State into a banana republic will only lead to more scandals exposed and more lawsuits by the ACLU, Fair Fight Action and dozens of other entities. Maybe Fleming will have a change of heart, withdraw his own bill and work in good faith with fellow Republicans and Democrats in Georgia to purchase voting machines that only print out one vote that everyone can read. A recent poll by Garin, Hart and Yang showed that 38 percent of Georgia voters, including 23 percent of white voters, “Do not have confidence in Georgia’s Electoral System,” and 33 percent agreed with the statement “I do not trust voting machines to properly record and count my vote.” Those are pretty damning numbers, and any member of the Georgia Senate would be wise to vote against HB 316 and thwart Barry Fleming’s plans. Georgia voters’ belief in the election system is already shaken; no need to stir it anymore with a bad bill by a bad guy.