WaPo: Four Pinocchios to Biden for lies about "outrageous" Georgia voting reform law

Maybe media fact-checking will only be mostly dead in Joe Biden’s presidency. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler gives Biden four Pinocchios over his statements about Georgia’s new voting reforms, highlighting two specific lies Biden issued over two days. This might be a lesson for the media in more ways than one, in fact.

Here are the two Biden statements with which Kessler takes specific issue:

“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick … deciding that you’re going to end voting at five o’clock when working people are just getting off work.”

— President Biden, in remarks at a news conference, March 25

“Among the outrageous parts of this new state law, it ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.”

In fact, as Kessler explains, the bill does neither of those things. It doesn’t change the voting times at all on Election Day, which was 7 am – 7 pm before the new bill passed and will still be 7-7 afterward. It doesn’t change the rule that people who get in line by 7 pm are allowed to vote even if polls close; that’s still the case, too. Some of those ideas were discussed, but none made it into the final version of the bill. Neither did ending early voting on Sundays.

Contrary to what Biden claims, the bill actually expands early voting time:

One of the biggest changes in the bill would expand early voting access for most counties, adding an additional mandatory Saturday and formally codifying Sunday voting hours as optional. Counties can have early voting open as long as 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at minimum. If you live in a larger metropolitan county, you might not notice a change. For most other counties, you will have an extra weekend day, and your weekday early voting hours will likely be longer.

The previous version of the law set the times for early-voting locations as “normal business hours,” which was interpreted as 9-5. Counties now have to provide that at a minimum, but could choose to extend those hours as they see fit.

The biggest changes to Georgia law had nothing to do with polling times, but with the absentee-ballot process. Access to that did get significantly restricted on timing, but not on eligibility, although the law also puts new restrictions on third-party groups trying to register people for absentee voting. Even those changes are hardly Jim Crow-esque, as Biden painted them in his presser:

Mail-in absentee voting will look the most different for voters, especially after 1.3 million people used that method in the November general election. Voters over 65, with a disability, in the military or who live overseas will still be able to apply once for a ballot and automatically receive one the rest of an election cycle. But the earliest voters can request a mail-in ballot will be 11 weeks before an election instead of 180 days — less than half as much time.

The final deadline to complete an application is moved earlier, too. Instead of returning an application by the Friday before election day, SB 202 now backs it up to two Fridays before. Republican sponsors of the bill and local elections officials say this will cut down on the number of ballots rejected for coming in late because of the tight turnaround. …

State and local governments are no longer allowed to send unsolicited applications, and third-party groups that send applications have new rules to follow, too. Their applications must be clearly marked as being “NOT an official government publication” that it is “NOT a ballot,” and must clearly state which group is sending the blank request.

Plus, third-party groups are only allowed to send applications to voters who have not already requested or voted an absentee ballot. The groups potentially face a penalty for each duplicate sent.

Kessler then provides this gentle dig at Biden over his concerns about early-voting access:

We were curious what the early-voting rules were in Delaware, Biden’s home state. It turns out Delaware did not allow any in-person early voting in 2020. A law signed in 2019 will permit early voting starting in 2022.

And then delivers the coup de grace in the conclusion:

One could understand a flub in a news conference. But then this same claim popped up in an official presidential statement. Not a single expert we consulted who has studied the law understood why Biden made this claim, as this was the section of law that expanded early voting for many Georgians.

Somehow Biden managed to turn that expansion into a restriction aimed at working people, calling it “among the outrageous parts” of the law. There’s no evidence that is the case. The president earns Four Pinocchios.

And well-earned they are, and maybe not just for Biden. The national media has approached the Georgia bill (which has room for some specific criticisms) with its new hair-on-fire method of reporting. Four years ago, we had Russians under every bed; now we have white supremacists behind every public policy. Biden’s merely exploiting the media’s social panic for his own ends, while these outlets largely abdicate their role in holding the president’s feet to the fire. It’s good to see the Post sticking to that role, but perhaps the rest of the news industry should start fact-checking its own reporting as well, starting with this particular piece of legislation.