On January 18 2023, an Imgur account submitted screenshots of an article with the headline, “A Georgia Republican Brags That Voter Suppression Helped Them in 2022”:
The post was titled “Saying the quiet part out loud again,” and it included four images of the article. It did not include a link, but two of the images included a visible URL for thenation.com.
‘A Georgia Republican Brags That Voter Suppression Helped Them in 2022’
On January 17 2023, The Nation published the piece shown above. It was evident from both screenshots and the article itself that Kelly Loeffler was the individual referenced in the headline:
Just last week [in January 2023], we learned that a Wisconsin Republican election commissioner boasted of the party’s success in dampening Black turnout, especially in Milwaukee, last November . Thanks to the state GOP’s “well thought out multi-faceted plan,” commissioner Robert Spindell e-mailed colleagues, 37,000 fewer voters cast ballots there than in 2018, “with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas.” It could have cost Democrat Mandela Barnes a Senate seat.
Now comes news that former Georgia GOP senator Kelly Loeffler is bragging that her party reelected Governor Brian Kemp and scored big wins in the state legislature at least partly because of voter-suppressing Senate Bill 202, the February 2021 law that severely curtailed the state’s absentee ballot and vote by mail programs and limited other polling options. Loeffler doesn’t quite claim that the bill suppressed Black votes — though it probably did: After the bill imposed restrictions on voting by mail, mail-in ballots plunged by 81 percent from 2020, and Black voter turnout dropped from 2018 midterm levels.
But Loeffler says the law did something equally important: it reassured conservative voters “disenfranchised” by the myth of Democratic voter fraud that their votes would count, and thus boosted white GOP turnout.
Broadly, nothing in the excerpt was a clear match to the claims of the headline, and it appeared that Loeffler’s “bragging” occurred in the form of praising “Senate Bill 202.” Text underlined above (“it reassured conservative voters”) was hyperlinked in the source material, alluding to additional information.
The Nation linked to the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), presumably to demonstrate the “bragging” referenced in the headline. AJC’s political blog “The Jolt” was paywalled for most readers, making the citation functionally useless, but the most ostensibly relevant section explained:
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler wasn’t on any ballot in 2022, but she was deeply involved in the election anyway through a series of new organizations, millions in GOP-focused donations, and [in January 2023], a 30-page after-action report on what she says worked for Republicans in Georgia and what didn’t.
Key to Republican wins in 2022, the report says, were a Loeffler-sponsored year-round registration and mobilization effort, messaging about Georgia Republicans’ election law overhaul through Senate Bill 202, and having Gov. Brian Kemp at the top of the GOP ticket … Two successes, the report says, were the groups’ outreach to Hispanic and women voters, along with a focus on the 339,000 GOP voters who cast ballots in November of 2020, but did not go back out to the polls for the January runoffs in 2021. The report calls [successfully motivated voters] “disenfranchised conservatives.” The report says that 142,000 of those voters cast ballots in 2022.
Loeffler said the phrase “disenfranchised” came from the voters themselves, who said they felt their votes in 2020 did not properly count, which former President Donald Trump repeatedly and wrongly alleged.
“When they feel like their vote doesn’t count, that’s that sense of being disenfranchised,” she said. “We wanted to make sure people understood the work that the General Assembly had done on Senate Bill 202, that some of the concerns were addressed. And that turned out to be important.”
SB 202 in Brief
AJC assessed Loeffler’s “2022 Impact Report,” and it appeared that the bragging in this case involved Loeffler’s repeated reference to “Senate Bill 202.” SB 202 was signed into law in March 2021; an October 2022 Brennan Center report (“How Voter Suppression Legislation Is Tied to Race”) mentioned it by name as one of several state bills suppressing the vote:
Another state, Georgia, is also being sued for its Senate Bill 202, which plaintiffs argue deliberately targets voters of color. S.B. 202 includes multiple restrictive provisions such as establishing ID requirements for absentee ballots, limiting access to drop boxes, shortening early voting periods, and banning handouts of food or water to voters waiting in long lines. According to the ACLU and other plaintiffs of the lawsuit, these provisions “were adopted for the purpose of denying voters of color full and equal access to the political process.” Like in Texas, the effects of S.B. 202 were on display in Georgia’s 2022 primary, where the turnout gap between white and Black voters was wider than any other election year in the past decade.
An undated page on the website of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund analyzed the law and its uneven effects on voters of color at length:
On March 30 2021, LDF and civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging Georgia’s sweeping new voter suppression law, S.B. 202, that will restrict access to voting and disproportionately burden voters of color, new citizens and religious communities. The lawsuit charges that provisions of S.B. 202 violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and infringe on Georgians’ rights under the First, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution … But since the passage of S.B. 202, a campaign of misinformation about the bill has been circulating suggesting that the bill doesn’t harm voting rights, and in fact expands voting access.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia also hosted a series of pages about SB 202, “Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law (SB 202),” summarizing the legislation:
Georgia’s anti-voter law attacks absentee voting, criminalizes Georgians who give a drink of water to their neighbors, allows the State to takeover county elections, and retaliates against the elected Secretary of State by replacing him with a State Board of Elections Chair chosen by the legislature—rather than the voters.
On June 25 2021, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release titled “Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Georgia to Stop Racially Discriminatory Provisions of New Voting Law.” It began:
The U.S. Justice Department announced today that it filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia, the Georgia Secretary of State, and the Georgia State Election Board over recent voting procedures adopted by Georgia Senate Bill 202, which was signed into law in March 2021. The United States’ complaint challenges provisions of Senate Bill 202 under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
“The right of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland “This lawsuit is the first step of many we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote; that all lawful votes are counted; and that every voter has access to accurate information.”
“The right to vote is one of the most central rights in our democracy and protecting the right to vote for all Americans is at the core of the Civil Rights Division’s mission,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke for Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each eligible citizen can register, cast a ballot, and have that ballot counted free from racial discrimination. Laws adopted with a racially motivated purpose, like Georgia Senate Bill 202, simply have no place in democracy today.”
“One of the fundamental rights of our democracy is the right to vote. That right should be protected for every citizen of our district, regardless of race,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine for the Northern District of Georgia. “The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is committed to protecting the rights of all Americans to vote.”
Loeffler’s ‘2022 Impact Report’
SB 202’s impact on voters of color was well-documented, and the “brag” in this case appeared to originate with Loeffler’s “2022 Impact Report” [PDF].
Loeffler’s used the word “disenfranchised” four times, twice in the context of SB 202, on pages 14 and 19:
“… Based on our election data and voter contact models, we knew going into 2022 that 339,000 disenfranchised conservatives stayed home in the 2021 runoff over concerns about election integrity. Our strategy to restore voter confidence among these individuals relied heavily on informing them about the new protections of Senate Bill 202, The Election Integrity Act (SB 202), which passed into Georgia law in March 2021. Importantly, it mandates voter ID, bans electioneering, bans outside money for local election boards, requires monitored absentee ballot drop boxes, requires security paper ballots, and creates a new voter fraud hotline – while expanding voting access.”
“… We supplemented these registration, engagement, and education efforts with doorknocking, phone calls, postcards, texts, and digital ads – making more than 2.6 million voter contacts. We ran a statewide radio ad to educate about SB 202 and mobilize “disenfranchised” voters, as well as the state’s first Spanish-language television ad to register and mobilize the Hispanic community. We signed up over 1,000 volunteers and partnered with more than a dozen organizations for our registration, engagement, and education efforts.”
Broadly, SB 202 itself was widely known to hinder voting. But Loeffler herself described measures to reduce the number of votes cast in Georgia, and she attempted to redefine “disenfranchised voters” in her “Impact Report.”
In November 2020, Rutgers University published an article about voter disenfranchisement. Its explanation of disenfranchised voters exhibited parallels to the provisions of SB 202. Donna Murch, an associate professor of history at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, explained:
Disenfranchising voters entails preventing them from expressing their 15th amendment right of voting. Unfortunately, techniques of disenfranchisement have been practiced throughout American history, with poll taxes, literacy tests, felon disenfranchisement and other means of stripping people of their [right and ability to vote]. These efforts have been primarily directed at African Americans and were an important pillar of the system of segregation (also known as Jim Crow) in the South. In fact, it is only since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the majority of African Americans have been able to exercise their full democratic rights as citizens. Sadly, over the past 55 years we have seen a steady erosion of the federal protections of the right to vote … African Americans have been the primary targets, however Latinx and Native peoples have also had their voting rights restricted as well, past and present. These efforts have sharply escalated over the past two decades as the Republican Party’s base has begun to shrink and disenfranchisement has become an explicit strategy to maintain power.
It was fair to say that Loeffler inverted the meaning of disenfranchised voters in her “2022 Impact Report,” mischaracterizing voters who purportedly “stayed home” in 2020 as “disenfranchised.”
A circulating set of screenshots suggested that a “Georgia Republican” bragged about “voter suppression” benefiting the Republican party in 2022. The cited article was behind a hard paywall (inaccessible to nearly all readers). The claim involved Kelly Loeffler’s “2022 Impact Report,” in which she credited a voter suppression bill (SB 202) for having “mobilized” “disenfranchised” voters. Loeffler did praise SB 202 in that report, but broadly speaking, the claim in the headline was out of context.