Democrats step up calls for federal voting law after Georgia restrictions pass

Gov. Brian Kemp leaves the Georgia Capitol after signing Senate Bill 202, a massive rewrite of Georgia election law. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Gov. Brian Kemp leaves the Georgia Capitol after signing Senate Bill 202, a massive rewrite of Georgia election law. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats said it is a top priority to move forward with federal election laws, citing Georgia’s new voting restrictions as not the end but a glaring reminder that they must continue pushing.

“This fight is far from over,” U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, the Atlanta Democrat who also serves as chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said in a Thursday evening news release. “No matter where you live in this country you should have the same access to the ballot box. In Congress, we must pass these key pieces of voting rights legislation to protect the sacred right to vote and preserve our democracy.”

Her statement came out shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s new law, which creates new ID requirements for absentee ballots, limits the use of drop boxes, allows the GOP-controlled Legislature to have more influence over county election offices and makes it illegal to bring food or drinks to people waiting in line to vote.

Georgia is the first swing state to pass voting changes backed by conservatives this year, but Democrats note that similar legislation has been filed in dozens of states. Republicans say most of these changes are justified by voter distrust after former President Donald Trump and his supporters falsely claimed that the election was stolen from him.

President Joe Biden is urging Congress to move forward on two proposals backed by Democrats. One is a sweeping election, redistricting and campaign finance bill that already passed in the U.S. House. The For the People Act is known in the Senate as S. 1, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised to bring it to the floor for a vote.

Still, the measure is unlikely to pass without Republican support unless something is done about the filibuster.

The president also backs the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reinstate court reviews of election changes in states such as Georgia that have had a history of discriminatory practices. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, said he will bring this to the floor, too.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, considered a crucial Democratic vote on these proposals, said Thursday that he will support some but not all the provisions in the For the People Act. Manchin, who represents West Virginia, also put an emphasis on working with Republicans to reach a deal.

“Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government,” he said. “We can and we must reform our federal elections together — not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans to restore the faith and trust in our democracy.”

During a Wednesday hearing on S. 1, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky described it as federal overreach that unnecessarily injects major changes in how states run elections.

“It’s an invitation to chaos,” he said. “State-level elections officials, including Democrats, are sounding alarms left and right. This messaging bill would create a nightmare if it actually became law.”

McConnell also said the changes could further erode public confidence in elections because the For the People Act is currently such a partisan measure, passing in the House earlier this month without a single GOP vote. Democrats point to polling that indicates provisions in the bill are popular among voters of all ideologies.

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