Warnock: GOP voting restrictions resurrect ‘Jim Crow era’

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Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., left, accompanied by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., speaks during a news conference, before the vote on the Democrat's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, March 10, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Sen. Raphael Warnock, whose election as Georgia’s first Black senator gave control of the chamber to Democrats, used his first floor speech on Capitol Hill to blast a wave of Republican-backed measures that would make it harder to cast ballots in states around the country.

Warnock noted Georgia’s and the country’s history of allowing voter suppression against minorities and the poor, and he warned that some Republican lawmakers are trying to reopen those chapters with “draconian” restrictions he cast as a reaction against Democratic victories like his.

“We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights and voter access unlike anything we have seen since the Jim Crow era,” Warnock said Wednesday. “One person, one vote is being threatened right now. Politicians in my home state and all across America, in their craven lust for power, have launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights” and on “democracy itself.”

The first-term senator’s speech followed Senate Democrats’ introduction of a sweeping election law overhaul, called the “For the People Act,” that could override many of the restrictive measures that Republicans are pushing at the state level. Warnock is the Senate bill's lead sponsor. The House passed its version in the previous Congress and again last month on a 220-210 vote that fell along party lines.

Democrats cast their legislation as a way to render most of the state GOP moves moot. Republican leaders insist their approach, which follows former President Donald Trump's false assertions that the 2020 elections were “rigged,” is needed to prevent voter fraud and reassure voters that U.S. elections are legitimate.

Warnock blasted that reasoning Wednesday as part of a “big lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression.” He added that “the same big lie led to a violent insurrection on this very Capitol,” as Congress met Jan. 6 to certify President Joe Biden's victory.

Republican lawmakers in Georgia and other states are considering severely curtailing absentee voting; eliminating automatic and same-day voter registration; and cutting back on early voting opportunities, including Sunday “souls to the polls” voting days that are especially important to Black churches where parishioners lean overwhelmingly Democratic.

Democrats' federal bill, among other provisions, would make automatic voter registration the norm nationwide, effectively forbid racial and partisan gerrymandering of district lines, establish national baselines for absentee voting, make it harder for states to remove irregular voters from the rolls and expand public financing of elections.