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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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.

10:58 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

First Black president of a regional Fed bank says parts of Georgia voting law are "troubling"

From CNN’s Matt Egan

Raphael Bostic, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, speaks to members of the Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta at the Buckhead Club in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. 
Raphael Bostic, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, speaks to members of the Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta at the Buckhead Club in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.  Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Raphael Bostic, president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, expressed concern Friday about the law passed this week by Republicans in Georgia restricting voting access. 

“There are some provisions that expand access and others that are more troubling,” Bostic, the first Black president of a regional Fed bank, told CNN Business in an exclusive interview.

The new law imposes new voter identification requirements for absentee ballots, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to give voters food and water while they wait in line.

“It’s something we’re all going to have conversations about in our communities and with our leaders to see if we can get to a place where voting is easily accessible and it’s secure,” Bostic said. “It has to be secure, but you definitely want to have as many people participate as possible. I think that needs to be the goal.”

Bostic, who became the president of the Atlanta Fed in 2017, said concerns about the law could be eased if the legislation is paired with efforts to make voter IDs broadly accessible.

“I think it’s appropriate for people to complain…and if there are concerns, they need to be articulated, addressed and then resolved so that we maximize the amount of voting that’s possible,” he said.  

10:53 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Here's why you likely will hear a lot about the filibuster as the debate over voting rights heats up

Analysis from CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. 
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.  Erin Scott/Pool/Getty Images

You're going to continue to hear a lot more about Democrats' efforts to end the filibuster in the US Senate. If successful, it'll be an important move supported by good-government advocates, as well as political progressives who want to defrost the levers of government and make them work in a big way instead of in increments.

The short version of the story is that Democrats want to reinterpret Senate rules so they can use just 50 votes to pass things like their voting rights bill.

According to the Senate website — which has its own glossary — a filibuster is this:

"Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions."

These days, it's shorthand for anytime senators demand a supermajority to cut off debate and move to an actual vote on just about anything.

When people talk about ending the filibuster, what they really mean is reinterpreting Senate rules around cloture so that legislation could pass by a simple majority instead of being held up by a minority.

While top Democrats like Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois are behind the effort and progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have been pushing it for years, moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are not. Because Democrats have only 50 votes right now, every one of them needs to be on board to change the Senate rules — and they could be changed back in the future.

What this means for the voting rights bill in Congress: House Democrats have passed a sweeping bill that includes a number of voting reforms, including automatic national voter registration. But the bill would now require a supermajority — 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.

During his first formal news conference yesterday, President Biden said he agreed with former President Obama that the filibuster "was a relic of the Jim Crow era," but stressed his immediate focus was addressing abuse of the rule.

10:33 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Georgia isn't the only state where GOP lawmakers are pushing bills to restrict voting access

Analysis by CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

More than 250 bills to curb or complicate access to polls have been introduced in 43 state legislatures as of Feb. 19, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which is tracking the bills — and bills have since been introduced in at least two more states, North Carolina and Wisconsin, according to CNN reporting.

Florida, Arizona and Georgia were all battleground states in 2020 and host US Senate races in 2022. Republican legislative majorities and GOP governors are moving to make it more difficult to vote in these states. Just yesterday, Georgia passed a sweeping bill that would restrict voting access and give state officials more powers over local elections.

Here's a look at measures being pushed in other states:

  • In Arizona, one bill would repeal the state's permanent early voting list, by which voters can automatically be sent an absentee ballot. The state, where Republicans lost both Senate seats in recent years, but retain the state government, has the most suggested changes. The list is long, indeed — see it here.
  • In FloridaRepublican Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing a proposal to cut down on the mailing of mail-in ballots to voters and cut access to ballot drop boxes. Many states are considering changing from signature verification to require voters to include a copy of their driver's license or other paperwork with a mail-in ballot. Others are considering proposals to remove a voter's registration if they don't vote in four consecutive years.
  • In Texas, there are more than a dozen suggested bills and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said they're needed because Harris County, recently a Democratic stronghold, made changes at the local level to increase turnout during the pandemic. "We must pass laws to prevent election officials from jeopardizing the election process," Abbott said, somehow arguing that more people voting jeopardizes the process.

Read more here.

4:15 p.m. ET, March 26, 2021

It's now a crime in Georgia to approach voters in line to give them food and water 

From CNN's AJ Willingham, Kelly Mena, Fredreka Schouten, Dianne Gallagher and Pamela Kirkland

Megan Dominy, right, offers water and snacks to people waiting in line to vote in Smyrna, Georgia, in October 2020.
Megan Dominy, right, offers water and snacks to people waiting in line to vote in Smyrna, Georgia, in October 2020. Elijah Nouvelage/AFP/Getty Images

Republicans in Georgia have passed a sweeping elections bill that voting rights advocates say is a bald-faced attempt at voter suppression. 

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.

"No person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or method, nor shall any person distribute or display any campaign material, nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink, to an elector," the new law states.

The law is seen as a win for former President Trump and his allies, who falsely claimed widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election. Trump himself pressured Georgia leaders to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the state. 

President Biden has called bills like this "sick" and "un-American." Other Republican-led states are considering similar voter suppression laws, sparking calls for federal legislation to set a national baseline for voting rules.

The Georgia bill underwent major change in recent days — growing from a narrow, two-page bill into a sweeping omnibus package to becoming law in a little over week. Activists and Black religious leaders in the state held rallies and threatened corporate boycotts in an unsuccessful attempt to disrupt its progress through the General Assembly.

Advocates said they were alarmed by measures that will allow any Georgian to lodge an unlimited number of challenges to voter registrations and eligibility, saying it could put a target on voters of color.

And Democrats in the Georgia Senate on Thursday lambasted measures that boot the secretary of state as chair of the state elections board and allow lawmakers to install his replacement, giving lawmakers three of five appointments.

Voting rights groups argue that granting the state new powers over county elections bucks the tradition of local control and could lead to a scenario in which state officials swoop in to prevent a county from certifying its election results.

CNN correspondent Dianne Gallagher breaks down what is in the law: