Senate Uses ‘Jim Crow’ Prism to Scorch Georgia Voting Law

The Judiciary Committee did not hold a single hearing on voting rights in the six years that Democrats were in the minority, but that did not stop Republicans from complaining Tuesday about what they termed an unfair reference to segregation-style politics of the Old South.

Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight Action, testifies before the Senate on Tuesday. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Chafing Republicans with the very title of their hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee held up Georgia’s new voting restrictions on Tuesday as “Jim Crow 2021: the Latest Assault on the Right to Vote.”

“I think this is the greatest crisis facing our democracy today,” Senator Patrick Leahy said.

After President Donald Trump claimed that the 2020 general election was rigged against him, legislatures in at least 43 states across the country saw proposals to limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting. Most of these bills were proposed by GOP leadership, and Georgia led the pack.

The wide-reaching Senate Bill 202, which Governor Brian Kemp signed on March 25, inserts new photo ID requirements while also limiting early voting, and allows officials to challenge any votes they don’t see as legitimate.  

Republicans hold up such limits as necessary to fight the scourge of voter fraud, but Leahy said that kind of rhetoric gives the false impression that fraud is widespread. 

“Did we not just reject a violent attempt to overturn our election based on the utterly false claims to fraud?” he asked the committee. 

Putting Georgia’s new voting law at center stage, Democrats invited a panel of expert witnesses to testify on the state of voting rights in America.

Carol Anderson, an African American studies professor at Emory University, argued that the hearing’s title was apt because “the lie of rapid, rampant voter fraud” was being used to suppress Black votes today the same way it was used during the Jim Crow era. 

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, pointed out that there were over 360,000 challenges to votes in Georgia after the 2020 election. SB 202 gives officials unlimited reach to target any ballot that they consider suspect, but the voters casting them have been — and would continue to be — disproportionately Black and brown. 

“Why create this untrammeled system in which anyone can enlist these unlimited challenges to voters?” she asked.   

Testifying on behalf of the Georgia House, however, Speaker pro Tempore Jan Jones argued that the bill wasn’t written up with the intent on suppressing voters of color. The provision restricting people from bringing food and water to voters standing in line, for example, was enacted because political actors used the opportunity to hand out merchandise promoting their campaigns. 

Jones said Georgia would still designate three weeks to early voting, and all 159 counties would be allowed to utilize drop boxes as they choose.  

She also claimed that the provision requiring a government-issued ID for absentee voting was not as limiting advocates made it out to be. “No ID is surrendered to vote absentee,” she explained. 

“Provided that you have a writing instrument, and you can write down 10, 12 digits,” Senator Thom Tillis asked her, “then you’ve satisfied the ID requirement for the absentee ballot?” 

Jones agreed. 

Fielding the most questions among the panelists about SB 202 was Stacey Abrams, who has been fighting for voting rights in Georgia since her gubernatorial loss in 2018. After Senate Republicans repeatedly asked Abrams to clarify her positions against the bill, she explained that she doesn’t think the entire bill is racist, but that there are certain provisions that she disagrees with. 

Several senators also brought up the ripple effect to locals after Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game from Georgia to boycott the law — a position on which Abrams stood her ground. 

“I do not think a boycott in Georgia at this time is the appropriate remedy,” she said, but added that she still had a right and responsibility to pressure corporations to speak out against injustice.

“To me, one day of games is not worth losing our democracy.” 

The other members of the panel were Senator Raphael Warnock, who won his Georgia seat by a narrow margin, Representative Burgess Owens, a Utah Republican; and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. 

Senators Thom Tillis, John Cornyn and Chuck Grassley took umbrage with the title of the hearing.

“Baseless claims of voter suppression are just as corrosive to our democracy as baseless claims of voter
fraud,” Grassley, who is the ranking Republican member of the committee, said in his opening statement. “We should all be committed to making elections accessible and secure to maintain the confidence of voters.”

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