Sen. Raphael Warnock
Caption
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock expressed to his colleagues Wednesday the importance of passing federal voting rights laws to combat the wave of Republican-sponsored state legislation that will make it harder to vote.
Credit: Screen shot/U.S. Senate

U.S Sen. Raphael Warnock challenged his colleagues Wednesday to support federal legislation that would strengthen voting rights he says are under attack in Georgia and other states following the contentious presidential election. 

During his 20-minute Senate chamber speech, Warnock drew parallels to the Jim Crow era that disenfranchised Black voters to the current Republican-led efforts targeting absentee and early voting options and an array of other changes to voting laws.

Warnock said those proposals show the pressing need for bipartisan federal support behind the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

If passed, those bills would mandate states offer same-day voter registration, provide two weeks of early voting with weekend hours and require federal clearance before states with a history of voter suppression can change laws that limit voting rights.

Warnock criticized Georgia bills that would restrict weekend voting opportunities, add ID requirements to vote absentee, and make it a crime to pass out snacks and beverages to people standing in lines to vote. 

Many lawmakers in other states are searching for ways to make it harder to access the ballot box, he said.

“Some politicians did not approve of the choice made by the majority of voters in a hard-fought election in which each side got the chance to make its case to the voters,” Warnock said. “And rather than adjusting their agenda, rather than changing their message, they are busy trying to change the rules. 

“We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights, unlike anything we’ve ever seen since the Jim Crow era,” Warnock said.

While the Atlanta senator preached in favor of federal legislation Wednesday, a pair of Georgia legislative committees held hearings on expansive voting bills that Republicans say would restore confidence in the voting system. 

Senate Ethics Chairman Max Burns said his committee will resume hearings on Thursday over an updated version of Harlem GOP Rep. Barry Fleming’s House Bill 531. The controversial plan would limit early voting hours and use of absentee drop boxes as well as add an ID requirement to vote by mail. 

Meanwhile, Fleming’s own special election House committee is now considering a 93-page Senate bill that incorporates many of his proposals with provisions in Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan’s wide-ranging measure and other legislation.

Noticeably missing, however, is Dugan’s controversial call to end the 2005 no-excuse absentee law, a repeal that top Republicans such as Gov. Brian Kemp have publicly opposed. 

But on Wednesday afternoon, Democrats and voting rights organizations focused their criticism on other elements of the House bill and requested more transparency since the latest plan wasn’t revealed until shortly before the hearing.

Election boards across Georgia tossed out complaints filed by Republicans contesting whether thousands of voters were registered correctly leading up to the Jan. 5 U.S. Senate runoffs. 

“We’re legitimizing falsehoods that continue to disenfranchise African-Americans and people of color all over this state,” Woodall said.

Rep. Chuck Martin, an Alpharetta Republican, said the public would have a chance to weigh in on the legislation before the committee takes a vote. 

Fleming’s committee is set to resume the hearing on Thursday afternoon.

“At some point, there has to be an introduction, and then you start hearing from people about it, and that process is going on,” Martin said.

This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Georgia Recorder.