Members of Congress weigh impact of new state voting laws

WASHINGTON — Members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee explored the impact of hundreds of proposed state voting laws on Capitol Hill Tuesday, with a particular focus on Georgia’s controversial new law passed this year.

Voting rights advocates urged Congress to pass new federal standards by enhancing the Voting Rights Act, which they argue would protect voter rights no matter where someone lives.

Lawmakers remained deeply divided along party lines.

“They are a deliberate effort to suppress voters of color,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) about the new voting laws.

“There’s a lot of falsehoods being peddled,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Durbin said since the start of 2021, more than 360 bills have been introduced in 47 states to change voting laws, with the Georgia law front and center.

“This is a full-fledged assault on voting rights unlike anything we have seen since the era of Jim Crow,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Georgia).

Opponents of the Georgia law said it makes it harder for communities of color to vote, following a massive turnout of minority voters in the special election in January, which resulted in Democrats winning both U.S. Senate seats in the state.

The Georgia law tightens identification requirements and makes it a crime to give water to people waiting in line, among other changes.

“Voters of color in Georgia were more likely than white voters to vote by mail for the last two election cycles,” said voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams. “Suddenly, SB 202 shortens the period to request a mail-in ballot application.”

Republicans argued the changes are about election integrity, not voter suppression.

“We’re making it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Jan Jones, a Republican Georgia State Representative.

Republicans condemned the rhetoric comparing the law to Jim Crow, laws that suppressed Black voters in the south until 1965.

“It’s disgusting and offensive to compare actual voter suppression and violence of that era that we grew up with a state law that only asks that people show their ID,” said Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah).

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “For the People Act,” which Democrats argue could help undo state voter restrictions.

Republicans have criticized that proposal, calling it a power grab for Democrats.