Outrage Over State Election Laws Grows as Congress Takes Action

April 2, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, attends a meeting in Washington, D.C., in 2018. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Georgia General Assembly granted Kemp sweeping powers to act, but he has often been circumspect in acting on the new authority compared to his counterparts in other states. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The backlash continued Thursday against Georgia’s new elections law while Congress moved ahead with a bill that could eliminate much of states’ rights to determine the conditions for which residents vote, when they vote and where. 

Civil rights activists called on major corporations to halt campaign contributions to Georgia lawmakers who voted for the legislation they said would limit minority voters’ access to the ballots.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill into law last week. Similar laws are close to votes in the Texas and Arizona legislatures.

The Georgia law limits mail-in voting and changes eligibility for early voting. 

Kemp and other Republicans who advocated for it said the law will reduce risks of voter fraud. They also dismissed the accusations that it suppresses the votes of minorities as untrue and alarmist.

“Putting hardworking Georgians first starts with ensuring that your voice is heard and restoring each and every citizen’s confidence in their vote,” Kemp said as he signed the law.

Other provisions are likely to reduce the number of ballot drop boxes in predominantly African American neighborhoods and allow state officials to exert more control over elections in Democratic counties, according to its critics.

It introduces new registration requirements that the critics say will suppress Black votes.

Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams is a leading advocate for putting financial pressure on the state to change the law.

She suggested on Wednesday in a USA Today op-ed a “boycott in order to achieve change” in Georgia.

“Events hosted by major league baseball, world class soccer, college sports and dozens of Hollywood films hang in the balance,” she wrote.

She also called on corporate executives for “clear, unequivocal statements that show Georgia-based companies get what’s at stake…”

So far, the corporate critics of the law have included Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey, Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier and former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault.

“Corporations have to stand up. There is no middle ground,” Chenault said Thursday morning on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Meanwhile, witnesses at a congressional hearing testified for or against a bill that would set national minimum standards for elections.

A main goal of the proposed legislation is to rule out the possibility that states would enact laws that suppress the votes of some groups, such as Black persons. Constitutional law grants states authority to determine the conditions for voting.

The bill would extend voting by mail, eliminate requirements of photo identification by voters and allow same-day voter registration.

Other provisions would ban states from purging voter registration lists, limit gerrymandering and impose new campaign finance ethics rules on politicians.

Since the last election and former President Donald Trump’s accusations of voter fraud, state legislators have introduced 367 bills in 47 states that could restrict some voters’ access to ballots, according to the public policy institution Brennan Center for Justice.

Debo P. Adegbile, a commissioner for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that without “vigilance” over states, they often enact discriminatory election laws.

“There’s a long history of it,” Adegbile told the House Administration subcommittee on elections.

While advocating for expanded federal oversight, he said, “The pattern is very clear there’s a federal role.”

However, other witnesses, such as Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, said a bigger federal role would limit states’ ability to find creative solutions to local election issues.

She also said that challenges of the last election, such as COVID-19 and Trump’s voter fraud allegations, showed the current election system worked well. It had the largest voter turnout in more than a century and was found to be the most secure in U.S. history.

“Throughout these circumstances, our country’s election system remained resilient,” Wyman said.

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