Democrats on Sunday seized on Georgia’s new election laws to push their federal voting rights legislation and an end to the Senate filibuster, moves that Republicans denounced as naked power grabs.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Georgia Democrat running for reelection next year, said his Republican-led state government is codifying voter suppression and congressional Democrats must respond with their voting-rights overhaul “no matter what” obstacle comes their way.
“The filibuster at the end of the day is about minority rights in the Senate. How are you going to insist on protecting minority rights in the Senate, while refusing to protect minority rights in the society?” Mr. Warnock told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The clash over election laws emerged as Democrats’ chief argument for changing the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires most legislation to garner 60 votes to survive in the chamber. That’s a high bar to clear in the current Senate that is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, making President Biden’s agenda for election law, climate change and gun control next to impossible to achieve.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed the rewrite of his state’s election laws last week, putting the Peach State on the front lines of a full-blown partisan war over how America votes.
Republican-run state legislatures across the country are trying to tighten election laws, arguing that stricter voting rules such as those adopted in Georgia will protect against ballot fraud.
Democrats want to make it easier to vote and view most restrictions such as voter ID requirements as attempts to diminish voting and suppress Black turnout.
The Georgia law requires identification for absentee by-mail votes and reduces the time to request absentee ballots. It also gives the state legislature more oversight over administering elections by removing the secretary of state as the head of the State Board of Election and replacing him with a new appointee of the legislature’s choosing.
Most of the new rules would be negated by congressional Democrats’ massive election bill, which is known as H.R. 1 or the For The People Act and is currently under consideration in the Senate. The more than 800-page bill would, among other things, mandate automatic voter registration and expanded mail-in voting.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said the Democrats’ bill was the “biggest power grab in the history of the country.”
“If you don’t like what they’re doing in Georgia, you can go to court and stop them,” the South Carolina Republican said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But what they’re doing with H.R. 1 is destroying the ability of any state to run elections, doing away with voter ID, changing the Federal Election Commission to make it partisan, and institutionalizing national ballot harvesting, which would be a disaster to our elections.”
The For The People Act would set a wide range of rules impacting elections and other aspects of political life, including:
• Requiring states to use certain voting machines.
• Allowing mail-in ballots to be counted up to 10 days past Election Day.
• Ordering states to allow early voting for at least two weeks.
• Mandating requirements on voter registration.
• Requiring the creation of commissions to handle redistricting instead of state legislatures.
• Implementing ethics standards for the U.S. Supreme Court.
• Requiring the disclosure of tax returns for presidential candidates.
Liberals already have gone to court, claiming in a lawsuit by New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund and Rise Inc. that the new election laws violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.
President Biden labeled the Georgia law an “atrocity” and focused on a provision that he described as preventing people from giving anything of value, including food and drink, to voters.
“They passed a law saying you can’t provide water to people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote?” Mr. Biden said Friday. “You don’t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting.”
Election lawyer Marc Elias of the advocacy group Democracy Docket, who represents the groups that brought the lawsuit, said on Twitter that the reason “Georgia criminalized giving food and water to voters stuck in long lines” is because it “disproportionately harms black voters.”
Republican strategist Josh Holmes countered on Twitter that the bill does not criminalize drinking water but prevents political advocates from using Southern hospitality to influence persuadable voters.
The Georgia law includes a provision that prevents anyone from giving food or drink to those waiting to vote, but it also states that the new law does not prohibit poll officers from “making available self-service water from an unattended receptacle.” In other words, poll officers cannot prevent voters from getting water at a drinking fountain but handing out water to solicit votes is barred.
“You look at the Georgia law, there’s no voter suppression,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Sunday voting is still allowed, there’s an expansion of in-person voting — there’s no requirement that you have a reason for a mail-in ballot, all you need is some verification of ID, and so does every department of transportation in America in order to drive, so does every airline if you’re gonna get on a plane,” he said.
He went on to accuse the Democrats of intellectual bad faith and playing the race card.
“This has been a false narrative entirely … and I’m afraid it’s all about trying to get rid of the filibuster. We’re not going to be cowed by being called racist over policy that has nothing to do with race,” he said.
Former President Donald Trump hailed the new Georgia law and said it was too bad the changes were not made sooner.
“Congratulations to Georgia and the Georgia State Legislature on changing their voter Rules and Regulations,” said Mr. Trump in a statement. “They learned from the travesty of the 2020 Presidential Election, which can never be allowed to happen again.”
• Seth McLaughlin and Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.
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