The latest on Georgia's new law suppressing voting access

By Fernando Alfonso III, Veronica Rocha, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 5:52 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021
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4:56 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Vice President Harris calls Georgia voting bill "abusive"

From CNN's Jasmine Wright

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday called on Congress to strengthen voting rights a day after Georgia passed a sweeping elections bill.

She went on to call Georgia's new law restricting voting access “abusive."  

“I believe very strongly that Congress needs to pass the For People Act, and we need to restore the teeth, and the strength of the Voting Rights Act. And we need to also provide for what is necessary, clearly, when we see the kind of abusive practices that we've seen in the from the Georgia legislature, which is to intentionally, I believe, attempt to prevent whole populations of people from exercising their constitutional right to vote in their elections,” she said. 

Asked if doing away with the filibuster was a step she was willing to take, Harris followed in-line with President Biden’s comments, saying that it will be the Senate that makes that decision but added, “we do have to get to a place where it's not so easy to block progress because the American people need us to act."

“Well, I think the President was quite clear and by the way I thought he did a really great job in his press conference yesterday and answered everything for over an hour,” she said.

“He was very clear which is that we should take a look at the filibuster. He made his thoughts clear about the talking filibuster and ultimately, it's going to be the Senate that's going to make that decision,” she added. “But let me just add that we do have to get to a place where it's not so easy to block progress because the American people need us to act.”

5:08 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Biden says Justice Department is "taking a look" at Georgia voting law

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Biden said Friday that the Justice Department is taking a look at Georgia’s restrictive voting law.

When asked if there was anything the White House could do to protect voting rights in Georgia, Biden told reporters on a tarmac in Delaware, “We’re working on that right now. We don’t know quite exactly what we can do at this point. The Justice Department’s taking a look as well.”

Asked about the strong words in a statement about the law he put out earlier Friday, Biden said the words were “not as strong as I was really thinking.” 

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp later responded to Biden’s remarks on the Georgia voting bill in a statement today, saying, “There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot – every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person. President Biden, the left, and the national media are determined to destroy the sanctity and security of the ballot box."

4:16 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Pressure is mounting for Congress to act on voting rights. Here's where things stand on Capitol Hill.

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf, Kelly Mena, Fredreka Schouten, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland

Erin Scott/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Erin Scott/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Voting rights advocates say Georgia's new law restricting voting access — and plans in other Republican-controlled states to pass restrictions of their own — underscores the need for federal legislation to set a national baseline for voting rules.

In a statement released this afternoon on Georgia's voting law, President Biden repeated his call for Congress to pass voting rights legislation, adding, "This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end."

"I once again urge Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to make it easier for all eligible Americans access the ballot box and prevent attacks on the sacred right to vote," Biden said.

House Democrats have passed a sweeping bill that includes a number of voting reforms, including automatic national voter registration.

Stacey Abrams, the founder of Fair Fight Action and a former Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, said the state's Republicans showed they were intent on "reviving Georgia's dark past of racist voting laws."

"Now, more than ever, Americans must demand federal action to protect voting rights," she said in a statement.

Currently, 18 states and Washington, DC, have automatic registration. Expanding that requirement nationwide could enfranchise 50 million Americans, according to the Brennan Center.

The bill would do a lot more, including putting an end to partisan gerrymandering, by which parties draw congressional lines to protect their incumbents, mandating a two-week early voting period and more.

But it would require a supermajority — at least 60 votes — to overcome a promised GOP filibuster in the Senate. Democrats have suggested changing Senate rules specifically for this bill, but it's not clear all Democrats would support the rule change.

CNN's Kelly Mena, Fredreka Schouten, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed reporting to this post.

3:53 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Biden again slams Georgia law, saying it is "an atrocity"

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

President Biden continued to rail against the newly passed Georgia elections law on Friday, telling reporters outside the White House that the law has nothing to do with fairness or decency.

When asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins to comment on the new law, Biden called it “an atrocity.”

“If you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can’t provide water for people standing in line while they’re waiting to vote. You don’t need anything else to know this is nothing but punitive, designed to keep people from voting,” Biden said outside the White House before boarding Marine One.

"Give me a break,” he added.

Moments before walking toward Marine One, Biden released a statement calling the law “Jim Crow in the 21st century.”

Watch the moment:

3:44 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Biden calls Georgia's voting law a "blatant attack on the Constitution" and "Jim Crow in the 21st Century"

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden just released a statement calling the restrictive voting law passed in Georgia yesterday a "blatant attack on the Constitution and good conscience."

The President also urged Congress to pass voting bills, including the For the People Act that was approved in the Democratic-led House earlier this month.

“This is Jim Crow in the 21st Century. It must end,” Biden says in the statement released by the White House. “We have a moral and Constitutional obligation to act. I once again urge Congress to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to make it easier for all eligible Americans access the ballot box and prevent attacks on the sacred right to vote."

Biden said that instead of "celebrating the rights of all Georgians to vote," Republicans in the state "rushed through an un-American law to deny people the right to vote."

The President also added that he will take his case to the American people, “including Republicans who joined the broadest coalition of voters ever in this past election to put country before party.”

More on the law: Republicans in Georgia sped the sweeping elections bill into law Thursday. It passed both chambers of the state's legislature in the span of a few hours. The measure imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it illegal to hand out food or water to people standing in line to vote.

The package is part of a national GOP effort that aims to restrict access to the ballot box following record turnout in the election. Republicans cast the measure as necessary to boost confidence in elections after the 2020 election saw Trump make repeated, unsubstantiated claims of fraud. Voting rights advocates say Georgia's rapid-fire action — and plans in other Republican-controlled states to pass restrictions of their own — underscores the need for federal legislation to set a national baseline for voting rules.

Biden, in his first White House news conference Thursday, said that he will "do everything" in his power to halt efforts to restrict voting rights, saying that he thinks the efforts underway in the state legislatures are "un-American."

CNN's Kelly Mena, Fredreka Schouten, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland contributed reporting to this post.

1:51 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

White House "deeply concerned" about arrest of Georgia state lawmaker

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

 Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
 Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The White House is “deeply concerned by the actions that were taken by law enforcement” to arrest a Georgia state lawmaker late Thursday, press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a briefing Friday. 

“I think anyone who saw that video would have been deeply concerned,” Psaki said, in response to a question from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. “She simply – by the video that was provided – seemed to be knocking on the door to, to see if she could watch a bill being signed into law.”

“The largest concern here obviously beyond her being treated in the manner she was… is the law that was put into place,” she added. 

Asked if the President would be calling Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon, Psaki said she didn’t have “any calls to preview.” 

As CNN previously reported, Cannon was arrested and removed from the Georgia state Capitol on Thursday after passage of the state's sweeping elections bill restricting voting access.

In a video posted to social media, a Georgia Capitol police officer speaks with the Democrat outside the door to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp's office. 

After knocking on the office door during Kemp's signing of SB 202, Cannon is seen being led away by several officers with her hands cuffed behind her back.

In a statement Thursday night, Georgia State Patrol said that at 6:33 p.m. local time, Cannon "was beating on the door to the Governor's Office," and, when told to stop, moved on to the Governor's Ceremonial Office door marked with a "Governor's Staff Only" sign and knocked on that door.

1:12 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Biden will release a statement on Georgia voting law later today, White House says

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Biden will release a statement later today on the sweeping election bill signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday, the White House said Friday. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the President is “worried” about the initiative, adding that the law makes it “more challenging, not easier to vote.” 

“Like the late Congressman John Lewis said, there's nothing more precious than the right to vote and speak up,” Psaki said. 

The new law imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, empowers state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water.

Psaki also said that Biden is “watching closely” and will be “engaging with members of Congress” to “prevent attacks on the sacred right to vote.” 

“When he was in Georgia, just two weeks ago, he met with Stacey Abrams while he was there and he will also continue to encourage and engage with outside leaders and activists on steps they can take,” Psaki said. “Obviously there's a range of groups and organizations that may take legal action.”

“Some of that going to be more appropriate from outside of the White House,” she said. 

Abrams, the founder of Fair Fight Action and a former Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Georgia, said the state's Republicans showed they were intent on "reviving Georgia's dark past of racist voting laws."

"Now, more than ever, Americans must demand federal action to protect voting rights," she said in a statement.

1:25 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Georgia Sen. Warnock on state lawmaker arrested protesting bill: "All of us owe her a debt of gratitude"

From CNN's Ali Zaslav

WXIA
WXIA

Sen. Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia, spoke about state lawmaker Rep. Park Cannon’s arrest and removal from the state Capitol on Thursday, after knocking on the office door during Gov. Brian Kemp's signing of a sweeping election bill restricting voting access.

“All of us owe her a debt of gratitude in a real sense for standing up,” Warnock said of Cannon, noting that he is her pastor.

He added at the Friday news conference that he’ll “let the investigation play itself out.. maybe there's something that I haven't seen” but in the video all he saw was her “knocking” on the door.

“Contrast that with folks who staged a violent insurrection on the United States Capitol. Police officers and others were killed,” he said. “I want to know from those who are using the premise of that assault as the basis for a craven takeover of power in Georgia, why they’re OK with that and somehow the actions of a state legislator knocking on the door of a governor who is signing a law that impacts her constituents. Why her actions are somehow so dangerous and criminal that she got charged with two felonies?”

“I got news for the state of Georgia and for those who are trying to take the people’s voices,” he continued. “We're going to keep on knocking on that door, because that wasn't just Representative Cannon knocking on the door. The people are knocking on the door saying this democracy belongs to us. It doesn't belong to the politicians. In this moment, we're going to stand up for that sacred American right, one person, one vote.”

On the voting bill the Georgia legislature passed last night, Warnock said “as bad as it is” what they were trying to pass was “even worse.” 

He said the law, SB 202, “will allow for a hostile takeover of local boards of elections if the Georgia legislature filled with politicians doesn't like the outcome of an election. It's anti-democratic. It's un-American.”

Warnock also argued this is “an interesting change in tune” for Kemp. “[Kemp] just said a couple years ago that everything was under control with our elections here in Georgia. Our own secretary of state said that the election that was held, this most recent election, was not rife with fraud as some have tried to suggest.”

“What's the purpose behind all of this?” he asked. “So, you are literally going to make public policy based on a lie? Based on the feeling that some people have that things didn't turn out the way they should have turned out? Is that how we make public policy? I thought we made public policy based on facts and data… if there's one thing that's clear, it's that the Georgia election was certainly free of any consequential fraud.”

11:42 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Key questions about voting rights and access in the US, answered 

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Voters fill in their ballots at polling booths for the presidential election in Concord, New Hampshire, on November 3, 2020. 
Voters fill in their ballots at polling booths for the presidential election in Concord, New Hampshire, on November 3, 2020.  Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans at the state level have moved swiftly to either roll back some easy access to voting or put new obstacles in the way of voters following losses in the 2020 presidential and US Senate elections. These moves have sparked a renewed battle over voting rights.

Here are answers to key questions about voting in the US and these GOP-led efforts to curb voting access:

Can't everyone over 18 in the US vote? How can states restrict access?

Yes. It took a long time to get from white landowners voting in the first presidential election to the 24th Amendment, enacted in 1964, which says:

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."

That did away with poll taxes and, paired with the Voting Rights Act, ended many of the Jim Crow-era tricks that kept many Black Americans from voting.

But not everyone over the age of 18 can vote — noncitizens and felons, in most places, although there are efforts to re-enfranchise felons. Notably, they can vote in Florida after voters there approved a ballot initiative in 2018.

States have the power to govern their own elections, but Congress has the power to place rules on them. And the courts often get involved.

Nearly every state requires some kind of voter registration and many require an ID to vote and there are many different versions of absentee voting and the hours during which people in different states can vote early or on Election Day.

Why not just have everyone vote at the same time and in the same way?

Election Day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (It's been that way for a long time.) But the US is a country of 50 states and more than 330 million people of varying degrees of education and engagement. There's something to be said for flexibility. Many people work odd hours. They work multiple jobs. And the Constitution puts states in charge of their elections, although Congress can regulate them.

The difficulty is making sure everyone has the same access to the polls while also maintaining the necessary amount of security. A complication is that when there are normal voting hours, it's often people in cramped urban areas that end up waiting for hours. Early voting and voting by mail are alternatives to remove that barrier.

What's the history of rules about who can vote in US elections?

Voter registration is relatively unique to the US and has a long history of racism. It started in New England in the 1800s, was a key element of Jim Crow in the South, and then saw a huge uptick in the early 1900s as states tried to make it more difficult for immigrants and Jewish and Black Americans from voting.

The government makes people pay taxes, why can't it just register them to vote?

The US has been slowly moving toward easier and, in some states, automatic registration, but the rules still vary by state. In the 1990s, under President Bill Clinton, Congress approved a reform that tied voter registration to the DMV. Most now have some form of online registration. Many states allow same-day voter registration, but in others there are deadlines. North Dakota doesn't have any voter registration at all.

Read more here.