Georgia’s Ossoff, Warnock ready to work with Manchin on voting compromise

November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters line up to vote at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)
Caption
November 3, 2020 Atlanta: Voters line up to vote at Park Tavern in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. Voters lined up outside polling places Tuesday morning to be among the first to cast their votes on a crucial Election Day. It’s expected to be the biggest day of voting in Georgia, with turnout reaching as high as 2 million. Another 3.9 million people already cast early or absentee ballots. Some told The Atlanta Journal Constitution that they expect social unrest whether Biden or Trump wins the election. (John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com)

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Stacey Abrams calls West Virginia senator’s proposal a ‘vital step’

WASHINGTON — Georgia U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock made voting rights one of his top priorities, and that has meant many conversations with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who is one of the party’s holdouts in supporting a new federal election law.

But Manchin has now committed to a framework for compromise by limiting the scope of what the bill would include while still addressing Democrats’ concerns about legislation they say Republicans passed in many states that make it harder to vote.

Although new bill language has not been released, both Warnock and his Georgia counterpart, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, said they were encouraged by what they heard from Manchin and see a way forward.

“Sen. Manchin and I have been talking now for weeks,” Warnock said Thursday. “And I think you see the fruit of our continuing dialogue in these latest developments. I think it’s because he understands that we’ve got to find a way to preserve and protect voting access.”

Manchin, who represents West Virginia, said he would support guaranteeing at least 15 days of early voting, making Election Day a holiday and banning the practice of gerrymandering congressional districts to benefit political parties. All those proposals enjoy wide support among fellow Democrats.

However, Manchin also wants to beef up voter identification requirements and allow election managers to purge voting rolls, which many Democrats have criticized as unfairly targeting the poor and voters of color.

Ossoff said he is hesitant to give a full-throated endorsement before seeing the actual text of any proposal. But he said he was happy to hear that Manchin was moving toward compromise with the members of his party.

“This process is alive, and there is still a path forward,” he said. “The caucus is working intensively to find unity around a set of principles and then a bill.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met with fellow Democrats over lunch Thursday to discuss next steps and committed to bringing a bill to the floor for a vote next week.

“Democrats will bring forward legislation to protect voting rights and safeguard our democracy,” he said. “And we are going to see where everyone stands. Everyone.”

Georgia has often been cited as a reason why federal legislation is needed. The state’s Republicans pushed through a controversial election law earlier this year that limits the use of drop boxes, increased ID requirements and made it illegal to pass out food or water to people standing in line at precincts. They said the law was needed to make elections more secure and boost voter confidence.

Thirteen other states followed suit with restrictive election laws, including Alabama and Florida.

Democrats and voting rights activists accused Republicans of trying to make it harder to vote after Warnock, Ossoff and Joe Biden’s victories in Georgia. Former President Donald Trump’s false allegations of voter fraud and mismanagement have also played a factor, his critics have said.

Warnock said he hopes a federal bill could blunt the impact of Georgia’s law, particularly a provision that allows the Republican-controlled State Election Board to take over county election boards it found had performed poorly. The counties that often face the most criticism, DeKalb and Fulton, are Democratic strongholds.

“That allows partisan politicians to usurp the power of local election boards and thereby usurp the voices of the voters,” Warnock said. “I think that ought to be very concerning. The voters pick the politicians, not the other way around.”

Stacey Abrams, the former and possibly future Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, is perhaps the most prominent critic of the state law. Abrams has also testified to Congress in support of a federal election law, and her Fair Fight organization has campaigned nationally on the issue.

Thursday morning, she called Manchin’s compromise “a vital step” and said it was something she could accept.

“What Sen. Manchin is putting forward are some basic building blocks that we need to ensure that democracy is accessible no matter your geography,” she said on CNN. “And those provisions that he is setting forth are strong ones that will create a level playing field, will create standards that do not vary from state to state, and I think will ensure that every American has improved access to the right to vote despite the onslaught of state legislations seeking to restrict access to the right to vote.”

While Democrats appeared on track to come up with a bill that has the support of all 50 members of their caucus, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell continued to criticize any attempt to create a federal election law. And he indicated that Abrams’ approval would make it tougher for Republicans to sign on.

“It’s a massive takeover of our electoral system with a fill-in-the-blank rationale,” he said Thursday. “Nobody is fooled. And next week, the Senate will reject it.”

ExploreHow Georgia’s voting law works
ExploreWarnock, in first floor speech, champions federal voting laws to blunt GA’s proposed restrictions