The clashes over who can vote, where and when could define the future of America’s political system and therefore represents one of the most important issues currently before the country. Many of the disputes between Republicans and Democrats concern rules and procedures that were introduced to make voting — the core and vital bedrock of a democratic system — easier and more universal amid the pandemic.
“I do absolutely agree that it’s racist. It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie,” Abrams told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union,” referring to historic state and local laws that institutionalized racism and segregation in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Efforts to curtail Sunday voting particularly target Black voters. The Christian Sabbath is traditionally important to Democrats as African American churches organize voter drives after weekly services. Attempts to shorten voting hours, meanwhile, often lead to long waits that are likely to depress turnout in cities where Democratic voters live.
Abrams, the former state House minority leader who’s regarded as a likely 2022 gubernatorial candidate, is not the only key political figure in the Peach State to condemn the bills moving through the state house. Republican Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan agreed that the bills deliberately target Black voters. “I’m very sensitive to that,” Duncan said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“There (are) a lot of solutions in search of a problem. Republicans don’t need election reform to win. We need leadership,” Duncan said. “I think there’s millions of Republicans waking up around the country that are realizing that Donald Trump’s divisive tone and strategy is unwinnable in forward-looking elections.”
A flurry of voter suppression
Georgia is not alone in seeing a fight to define election laws for political advantage.
These efforts are taking place against the volatile backdrop of once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts, which is always a fraught process and will be especially divisive this time around after Trump’s single term left the country and its state and local politicians even more polarized.
Republicans say voters have lost confidence in the system
National and local Republicans justify their push to restrict access to the ballot by arguing that after the last presidential vote, millions of Americans have lost confidence in the process. But those doubts are largely fueled by a campaign of lies by Trump and the conservative media about the last election, which were abetted by many GOP office holders who helped stir the hysteria that incited the deadly US Capitol insurrection.
Abrams argued on “State of the Union” that a total overhaul of the filibuster, which Biden and several moderate Democrats oppose, is not necessary to get the bill through the Senate.
“I don’t believe that it’s necessary to wholly eliminate the filibuster to accomplish the purposes of passing these bills,” Abrams said, suggesting a similar carveout from the filibuster as applies to confirming Cabinet and Supreme Court nominees. Abrams also rejected Republican claims that H.R. 1 represents an unlawful power play by liberals that crushes state power.
“The elections clause in the Constitution guarantees that the Congress alone has the power to regulate the time, manner and place of elections. That is a power that is sacrosanct,” Abrams said.
The “For the People Act” takes the opposite approach to most of the Republican electoral bills in the states. It would create automatic voter registration nationwide, expand voting by mail and reverse restrictions on voting hours imposed by states. The bill would end partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts — the practice of drawing seats that has protected incumbents and tended to radicalize both parties in Washington. It also requires organizations to disclose the names of all their big donors and introduces new security measures to protect American elections following assaults on the process by foreign powers. In another change to campaign finance practices for congressional elections, the measure would also give federal candidates as much as a 6-to-1 match of public funds for small donations to spur more grassroots giving.
Abbott threatens legal battle
Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn on Sunday blasted the “For the People Act” as a “hijacking of state and local election laws.”
“This is a power grab. It’s that simple,” Cornyn said on “Sunday Morning Futures” on Fox News, urging moderate Democrats to intervene to stop a gutting of the filibuster rules.
“A lot of this is going to depend on how strong people (are) like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, two senators who said they oppose eliminating the requirement of 60 votes in order to pass things in the Senate,” Cornyn said, referring to Democrats from West Virginia and Arizona.
When the bill passed the House, Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole argued against it by saying that it would federalize elections in a way that was not consistent with the republican structure of the country and said its changes to campaign finance law would amount to a “federally funded campaign ATM.”
Abbott, who is calling for new measures to tighten mail-in ballot procedures, plans to hold his news conference on Monday alongside state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who is a co-sponsor of bills that would require more extensive documentation for voter registration and require uniformity on voting hours and days for all Texas counties. Such moves could centralize power in Austin and take discretion away from jurisdictions like Harris County — a key Democratic stronghold around Houston — to set their own voting hours and other balloting rules.
Also speaking on Fox News on Sunday, Abbott warned that if the “For the People” Act passes the Senate, the vote would only mark a new phase of the battle to control how and when America votes.
“Before I was governor, I was the attorney general of Texas. And when the Obama administration tried doing things like this, I filed 31 lawsuits against the Obama administration,” Abbott said, before making a series of unproven claims that mail-in voting is “one of the easiest ways to cheat in elections.”
“The strongest tool that we have is the litigation tool,” Abbott said, raising the eventual prospect that a conservative Supreme Court — led by Chief Justice John Roberts, who has a long been willing to challenge voting rights laws — could have the final say on the fight to preserve American democracy.