Georgia Should Make Juneteenth a State Holiday Replacing Columbus Day
By Vasu Abhiraman, Senior Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Georgia Voting Access Project | June 17, 2021
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Today, President Biden is expected to make Juneteenth, June 19, a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. The State of Georgia should follow suit and make Juneteenth a state holiday–substituting Juneteenth for Columbus Day.
The landing of Christopher Columbus’s ships initiated an era of genocide against the indigenous people in North America. Now, Georgia disenfranchises Georgia voters by honoring that same man.
Columbus Day has been weaponized to disenfranchise voters in SB 202 – Georgia’s anti-voter law, under the false premise that SB 202 expands early voting access for voters. It does not.
While 138 counties now have an added second Saturday of voting in SB 202, when factoring reduced voting due to the ban on early voting during state holidays including Columbus Day, many more Georgia voters are harmed by SB 202 than helped by it. In fact, the state holiday early voting ban specifically burdens Black voters, who have been historically disenfranchised in this state and this country as a whole. 1,290,669 Black voters lose a day of voting under SB 202, which amounts to 56.35% of Black voters in Georgia. Only 93,060, or 4.1%, gain a day.
During the 2020 General Election, the first day of early voting in many counties was October 12, which was Columbus Day. 7,081,127 voters, or 92.67% of Georgia voters, had access to early voting on this day. While making a second Saturday of early voting mandatory for all counties appears to be beneficial for Georgia voters on its face, prohibiting voting on state holidays actually reduces early voting for many more Georgia voters.
The majority of Georgia voters already had access to the second Saturday of voting, as densely-populated counties have historically elected to hold voting on this day. Under SB 202, the 3,880,428 Georgia voters who both had access to voting on Columbus Day and the second Saturday of advance voting will have one less day to secure their vote. This is 50.78% of all Georgia voters. This bill only truly adds an extra day of voting for individuals who previously did not have access to voting on Columbus Day or a second Saturday of advance voting, only 451,282 Georgia voters, only 5.9% of voters across 31 counties. The additional Saturday is disguised as a statewide good that truly only benefits a minority, while harming the rest.
Governor Kemp has asked, “How is this suppression when you’re adding opportunities for more weekend voting?” The answer to this is simple: land does not equate to people. The government of this state has made it clear that they care more about land than the people who reside on it, as shown by their decision to celebrate a man who stole land at the expense of millions of indigenous lives, but the ACLU of Georgia is clear on our stance that this so-called “holiday” should not be used to further harm the historically disenfranchised communities in our state. Columbus Day should be replaced with Juneteenth as a state holiday, as it is far past time for Georgia to celebrate emancipation rather than genocide.