S1: There have been a lot of speeches this week in Georgia, state Capitol Building Chair recognizes Representative Dreier to speak to the bill.
S2: Thank you.
S1: I rise in opposition to House bill, Republican representatives in the state are trying to pass bills that would limit who could vote and when. Meanwhile, the Democrats might not have the power to stop these bills, but they can be loud. They can have their words put on the record. Chair recognizes Representative Roger Bruce to speak to the bill.
S3: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was searching for words to my colleagues.
S4: I stand in opposition to House Bill five thirty one. I can’t help but ask once again why this and why now? My colleagues have all so eloquently. What’s worse is that my Republican colleagues don’t have the guts to tell the cultlike followers the truth that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were fairly elected president and vice president of these United States.
S1: After three recounts, these legislators are opposed to laws that would limit absentee voting, eliminate early Sunday voting and add voter ID requirements. All of these are barriers that would disproportionately impact the Democratic base and people of color.
S3: Your place in history will be sealed by how you vote today. Will you be remembered for suppressing the vote? Or will you be remembered for opposing legislation that deprives citizens of a fundamental right? This bill is proof that we have down here.
S5: What buyable are you reading? You should the Bible says you treat people like you want to be treated and the least whether you should be sitting here.
S4: Mr. Speaker, I yield the well.
S1: Of all these lawmakers, the one I couldn’t stop thinking about long after he left the floor was Al Williams. He’s 73 years old. He’s been in office for nearly 20 years. You can hear it when he talks.
S6: Native speaker, first for clarification. I was only the asked.
S1: Or two to speak today, I was compelled to do so when he spoke on Monday, he launched right in to the story of his decades long fight to become a state representative in Georgia.
S6: Because I came as a young man, 1970. I became the first African-American in rural Georgia to run for the state House. And our we’re talking about fraud. I can teach you something about fraud in south Georgia, politics seen ballot box stuffed. I’ve seen vote call and ask, how many votes do you need?
S1: And then Williams fast forwarded to talk about today, he said after losing elections in November and January, Republicans are just doing what he used to do as a young man when he lost a game of basketball. They’re blaming the ref. And now with these bills, Republicans are trying to change the rules of the game altogether.
S6: I’ve been here long enough to know that John L. Williams says today you’re not going to change a lot of votes. But I do know this. I’ve lived enough change.
S7: To know when I see it, every time the rules change, hey, we’ll learn to play the game. The numbers will not be here today, but I promise you, as soon as this bill passes, and I hope it doesn’t, but as soon as it passes, we’ll start to practice on how to win it, that to format now because we learn how to play the game. And we played the game in November and way no ways tired. See it the next election. God be the glory. Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m leaving.
S8: Well, Georgia’s fascinating because Republicans wrote every aspect of the state’s voting laws, so they were totally fine with it until it didn’t work for them anymore and the second it didn’t work for them. Now they’re trying to change the entire thing.
S1: Ari Berman covers voting rights for Mother Jones. He says what’s so interesting about the debate taking place in Atlanta is exactly what Al Williams is pointing out. Republicans are mad because Democrats beat them at their own game.
S8: They can’t say this voting law or that voting law is a Democratic plot because they did all of it.
S1: Can we take a second to just marvel at the sheer volume of bills about voting rights that are rolling out right around now? The Brennan Center just put out this report. They said there were 253 bills in 43 states that seek to tighten voting rules. That’s a lot of bills.
S2: It’s a lot of bills in two months especially. I mean, think about that, 250 bills in two months in 43 states to restrict voting rights. And I’ve been covering this for a decade and I’ve never seen anything like this before.
S9: Today on the show, as Republicans try to jam through legislation restricting who can vote and how is there anything to stop them? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around.
S1: For Ari Berman, the funny thing about what’s happening in Georgia is that even though in the last few years the states become known for purging voter rolls and closing voting locations, Georgians also seemed pretty proud of things they’d done to expand access to voting.
S8: Every press release from the Georgia secretary of state brags that Georgia is a national leader in elections because it has the trifecta of automatic voter registration, early voting and no excuse absentee voting. And Republicans have now introduced and passed bills through committee to repeal or restrict all three of those things. So that gives you a sense of what’s happening in Georgia and elsewhere. They have passed bills through a committee to repeal automatic voter registration, which five million of seven point six million registered voters in Georgia use to register. They have passed bills through committee to repeal no excuse absentee voting, which one point three million Georgians used in November. They have tried to cut days of weekend voting, including Sunday voting, when black churches used souls to the polls, voter mobilization drives. So they really are trying to repeal or severely restrict everything in the state of Georgia that makes it easy to vote. These are not small changes around the margins. These are sweeping changes that would dramatically reshape and restrict voting access in the state.
S1: It’s notable that not all Georgia Republicans agree these restrictions are necessary or even a good idea.
S2: Politically, there’s different dividing lines. The speaker of the House said he doesn’t want to get rid of no excuse absentee voting. That is not in any of the House bill so far that have been passed to restrict voting rights. The lieutenant governor who presides over the Senate is not for that either. Brian Kemp has been vague, the governor, about what he wants to do. But I think he is very aware of the fact that most likely Stacey Abrams is going to run against him in twenty, twenty two. And a lot of Democrats and in particular a lot of black voters are still angry about the voter suppression that happened in twenty eighteen when Brian Kemp was both secretary of state and a candidate for governor and appeared to use the state’s voting laws as a weapon against Stacey Abrams in a weapon against black voters. And so I think he’s he realizes if he signs bills making it harder to vote, that Abrams and other people in Georgia are going to use that against him for the next two years. And they’re going to rally voters against him and they’re going to say the governor, the Republican leadership of the state, they don’t want black voters to participate. They don’t want voters of color to participate. And that may mobilize people to turn out again and to be motivated to not have their votes taken away from them. So it’s unclear how this is going to work politically, but it’s also clear that the legislature, in some form or another, is going to pass laws making it more difficult to vote based on zero evidence that it actually needs to happen.
S1: What are the efforts look like to stop these Republican laws from passing when it comes to the Democrats, like how can they insert themselves here, given that they’re not part of the majority?
S2: First off, just publicity. I mean, there was a a truck that was circling the Georgia legislature on Friday that had a banner that said Georgia Republicans don’t want black people to vote. Well, and this isn’t a this is a state where voters of color are 40 percent of the electorate. Georgia was the only state in which Joe Biden’s coalition black people made up a majority of his voters. So black voters and voters of color are very influential segment of the electorate in Georgia.
S8: And a lot of times voter suppression succeeds because people don’t know it’s going on. They’re able to pass it under the rug and just think that there won’t be any outrage because people won’t really be following it. That’s not going to happen in Georgia.
S2: That’s not going to happen in other states. This is getting a lot of attention at the state level. This is starting to get more attention nationally. And Democrats are able to both make a stink about it, but also they’re able to exploit these Republican divides and say it was your Republican secretary of state that said over and over and over this election was secure. There was no fraud. Donald Trump and other people who were a lot of him were lying. So, I mean, basically, Democrats can just roll out the quotes from the Republican secretary of state and other Republican leaders in Georgia, and that makes for a pretty effective argument.
S1: It’s interesting because you’re talking about making a stink, but it sounds like to me it’s also a very specific kind of stink where the Democrats are really underlining. The racism that undergirds these kinds of laws, like I was looking at this speech from a Democratic legislator, Senator David Lucas, and he was saying, look, let’s let’s not make a mistake about what this bill is about.
S10: The election did not turn out the way you wanted to to. That’s what it’s about.
S1: Being very clear about who will be impacted and why that is terrible. Do you notice those calls getting louder now?
S8: I do, because when they introduced bills, for example, to get rid of Sunday voting, when black churches do souls to the polls get out the vote drives, that was something that was obviously targeted at black voters. And the data bears that out, that African-Americans in Georgia, about 30 percent of the electorate, but they were 37 percent of Sunday voters. And so that was something that I think was pretty obviously had a very racial component to it and also had nothing to do with election integrity because nobody talked about fraud during early voting. I mean, there was no fraud period in Georgia, but no one even made allegations of fraud during the early voting period.
S2: This was the method of voting that Donald Trump was telling people to use, go vote in person and go vote early in person. So it just kind of showed the real purpose of this legislation when they started introducing bills like this. And I think there’s a deeper cord running through this debate in Georgia, which is that the Georgia of twenty twenty one is very different than the Georgia of the 1950s. But it’s the same kind of attitude that when new people turn out and that when new people participate in the process, we need to do something to roll those rights back. And that’s what Democrats and particularly Democrats that grew up in the Jim Crow era, because they’re still some of them left in the legislature who are black. That’s what they’re really opposing.
S1: They’ve seen this before and they don’t want to see it again when state Republicans are called out in this very precise way. What do they say?
S2: Well, they have different rationales for what they do, what they’re doing, I mean, when they when they say they want to cut early voting, they say, well, we just want uniformity among the counties. We want every single county to have the same days of early voting, knowing that in large metropolitan counties in Atlanta, people use early voting at much higher rates than in small rural counties in Georgia. They say that mail voting is too much work for the counties, that it’s taxing the system too much. But they never made that argument, of course, until Democrats started using vote by mail in larger numbers. So, I mean, they try to stay away from race. But there was a very revealing quote from one Republican House member where he said, you know, I’m not going to engage about widespread voter fraud. There was no widespread voter fraud, but people believe there was. So therefore, we need to do something. And that’s really the tally here, is that they know that there was no fraud because Republicans ran the election in Georgia. So they oversaw the entire thing and they were in a very good position to say whether or not it did or did not exist. So they have now pivoted to this idea that people believe there was. And just that perception, no matter how untrue it is, is now the basis for what they are trying to achieve.
S9: Looking nationally at the same time, there are these two hundred fifty three bills to tighten voting rules, the Brennan Center said there were seven hundred and four bills with provisions to improve access to voting. When you hear that, do you think that’s worth paying attention to, too? Like, it seems like that would be good news.
S2: It would be good news if all of those bills to improve voting rights actually had the same chance of passing as all the bills to restrict voting rights do. Because if you look at who controls the states right now, Republicans control many more states than Democrats do. So bills to make voting easier, by and large, are only going to pass in Democratic controlled states. So if you live in California or if you live in New York or if you live in Virginia and places that Democrats control, yeah, this is a very exciting time for voting rights. You can get some really big things through. Virginia just passed, for example, a state level version of the Voting Rights Act, making them the first state in the South to do something like that. That’s very exciting. But if you look at all the places that Republicans control, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Texas, they are very, very quickly moving to restrict voting rights. It is the number one thing or very close to the number one thing they’re trying to do in all of these states that are competitive are even not really that competitive. The amazing thing to me is that you have like Idaho and Wyoming and Montana, all of these states that Donald Trump carried easily. They’re also making it harder to vote. So it just seems like this virus, not the coronavirus, the voter suppression virus, has infected the entire Republican Party. They are doing this all across the country. And it’s really remarkable to see how orchestrated is.
S1: I’m curious why you think these kinds of bills are gathering steam where President Trump won the election, so it’s very hard to claim fraud, and yet at the same time, the state legislature seems to think we still need to restrict who can vote.
S2: Well, it’s almost like their ability to do voter suppression has become a litmus test for how loyal of Republicans they are, like pushing voter suppression is now the same thing as being pro-life or pro-gun. Like if you don’t do it, you’re not a loyal Republican, you’re a RINO. And that’s so disturbing, the idea that restricting access to the ballot is now something that you have to do to prove your loyalty to the Republican Party and prove your loyalty to Trump is just an incredibly alarming and I think new development in American politics. And they finessed this in Iowa in a really interesting way, which is, yes, there was no fraud in Iowa, but you had the Republicans in the Senate, Republicans in the House say that they believe the election was stolen and that their own votes were disenfranchised by other states. This was a very novel argument that I heard that making that voters in Philadelphia somehow disenfranchised Iowans because Donald Trump didn’t win the election. And so I don’t know if if you feel that way, why you would change the voting laws in Iowa, because it has nothing to do with the voting laws in Pennsylvania. But they keep trying to figure out new justifications for passing this. And I think basically they’re just so insecure in terms of the power they have that even if they won the election, they clearly don’t believe that they’re going to win it forever or else they wouldn’t be changing the voting systems in Iowa or Florida and other states. They clearly are still concerned that even though Donald Trump comfortably won Florida, comfortably won Iowa, that Democrats could still win there in the future. And I think that’s true. I mean, Democrats could win there in the future. And we’re not talking about Wyoming or Idaho. We’re still talking about states that, yeah, they are red reddish states, but they’re not they’re not red forever. And so Republicans are still concerned about their political viability here. But I think it’s just a broader thing of this is what you do now. If you’re Republicans, you talk about how much you love guns, you talk about how much you hate abortion. You talk about how the Democrats stole the election and therefore you’re doing something about it when we come back.
S9: If state Democrats don’t have the power to slow this legislation down, who does?
S1: So let’s talk about what might happen if these bills are passed in the past, the courts have stepped in to intervene, like especially with something like restricting Sunday voting, like North Carolina tried to pass a similar law in 2013. Courts got in there and they said, no, we can’t do this, basically because the people who had passed the bill were pretty clear that they wanted to prevent black people from voting. So do we expect that to happen now?
S2: I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the courts when Donald Trump appointed 234 judges, including three new members of the Supreme Court. I think that the courts are going to be very lenient towards these Republican efforts. There may be a few really extreme provisions that they strike down. But on the whole, I think the courts are going to say that we think states should be able to run their elections, how they see fit.
S1: You have evidence that the courts are. Becoming more conservative when it comes to voting rights, like what did we see in the last year as the pandemic happened and tons of lawsuits were filed about expansions of voting rights that were done in a number of states?
S2: Well, people are so fixated on the fact that the courts didn’t let Donald Trump steal the election. They kind of forget all of the ways in which the courts before the election actually were totally fine with Republican efforts to make it harder to vote, even in a pandemic. You had in a bunch of states in South Carolina, in Texas and Alabama, in Florida, you had the Supreme Court basically say that they were fine with restrictions that Republicans had put on voting. So giving voters less time to return absentee ballots or adding new requirements for absentee ballots or preventing certain people like people with past felony convictions in Florida for being able to vote. The Supreme Court didn’t have any problems with these efforts, and that was during a pandemic. So I think there a lot of evidence that the Supreme Court is broadly supportive of these restrictions on voting. Remember, it was a five to four Supreme Court that gutted the Voting Rights Act. It was a five to four Supreme Court that allowed extreme voter purging in states like Ohio as a five to four court that said that federal courts can’t review partisan gerrymandering. That was before it was a six to three court. So, I mean, the ostensible swing justice, John Roberts, has basically been rendered irrelevant from these debates. And so if Democrats are hoping that the courts step in to try to block these laws, I hope they have a fallback strategy because I don’t see a lot of evidence that unless Republicans are just trying to flat out steal the election by throwing out millions of votes, unless it’s that level of extreme behavior, I think the courts are perfectly fine with Republicans are trying to do here.
S1: So if the courts aren’t going to fix this, what will I think federal legislation?
S2: Democrats control Washington. They’re in a position to pass a new Voting Rights Act. They’re in a position to pass the for the People Act, the most important democracy reform bill in a generation. They have the power to do these things.
S8: And that, I think, is going to be the way to try to stop this. If there’s any way to try to stop it, is to create federal rules to make it easier to vote.
S1: Could you quickly just lay out what’s in for the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act?
S2: Yeah. So the for the People Act has all of these provisions that would make it easier to vote because Congress can regulate the rules for federal elections. So it would mandate that every state for federal elections would have automatic registration, would have Election Day registration, would have early voting, would have nonpartisan redistricting, would give voting rights back to people with past felony convictions. So, so many of the things that we’re talking about, Republicans trying to do, they wouldn’t be able to do them for federal elections because the for the People Act would have these broad protections for voting rights enshrined for races for the House or the Senate or for the president. And that would go a long way to blocking the kind of voter suppression efforts we’re talking about in the States.
S1: How does the John Lewis Voting Rights Act push even beyond that?
S2: The John Lewis Voting Rights Act responds to the Shelby County vs. Holder decision, where the Supreme Court in 2013 said that states with a long history of discrimination no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. And in that decision, the Supreme Court basically said to Congress, you can write a new version of the Voting Rights Act. One of our biggest issues with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is it’s based on old data. So the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would require states with a more recent history of voting discrimination to have to approve their voting changes with the federal government. Once again, that would include states like Georgia that both discriminated against voters of color in the past but have also discriminated against them more recently as found by the courts. And so if Georgia wanted to get rid of automatic registration or get rid of early voting or do something like that, they would have to get that approved with the federal government, either with the courts or the Justice Department. It would also require voting changes in every state that have a disproportionate impact on minority voters to have to be approved federally as well. So if you’re in Utah and you want to close a polling place in an area with a high percentage of voters of color, you would have to get that approved as well. So it’s both sweeping and targeted at the same time. And I think these bills work really well hand in hand because the For the People Act would basically do all these good things. And the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would basically stop all of these bad things. And I think you need that combination of carrots and sticks to really protect voting rights in this day and age.
S1: H.R. one for the People Act, John Lewis, Voting Rights Act. They’re alive in the House, but not so alive in the Senate is.
S8: My understanding, they’re alive in the Senate, if you can pass them with 50 votes and that’s the fact they are alive if you get rid of the filibuster to pass them right now. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, they’re saying we’re not going to get rid of the filibuster. So they’re dead as of now. What Democrats are betting is that if Republicans block enough legislation and if Republicans do enough extreme things at the state level, these senators might change their tune. In Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema, whose home state they have introduced more restrictions on voting than any other state, even more that in Georgia, they’re trying to roll back male voting and all sorts of ways. They’re trying to cut in-person voting. They’re trying to get rid of automatic registration. There’s even a bill in Arizona that would allow the legislature there to appoint its own electors no matter what the voters do. So basically, that would that would render the presidential election completely void if the legislature could just step in at any moment to overturn it. And so I think at some level, Kyrsten Sinema and other Democrats in Arizona have to view these as an attack on democracy, but also as an attack on that, an attack on their ability to get re-elected. And they also know that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act would stop a lot of these efforts. And so these federal bills, yes, they’re not going to pass the Senate. Now, Democrats are betting that in six months, the political situation, the political calculus of these senators might be different.
S11: Ari Berman, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks again, Mary. Ari Berman is a writer for Mother Jones. He’s also the author of the book Give US the Ballot The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Before we go, I want to ask a quick favor from all of you. It has been nearly a year since that coronavirus lockdown began in earnest. It’s been a tough one for all of us. And I want to know what you learned during this time about yourself, about your community. How did the last year change you? So leave us a message called two zero two eight eight eight two five eight eight. All right. That’s the shout. What Next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Elena Schwartz, Mary Wilson, Davis Land and Carmel Dilshad. We get help every day from Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery. Stay tuned to the speech tomorrow for a new episode of What Next? TV with Lizzie O’Leary. I’m Mary Harris. I will catch you back here on Monday.