Biden, Harris visit Atlanta to push federal voting reform

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President Joe Biden speaks in support of changing the Senate filibuster rules that have stalled voting rights legislation, at Atlanta University Center Consortium, on the grounds of Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University on Tuesday.

ATLANTA — Standing on grounds once walked by the late Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta just days before the observance of his birthday, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris backed Senate Democrats' push for federal voting laws.

"I have heard your outrage about the anti-voter law here and how many voters will likely be kept from voting. And Georgia is not alone," Harris said Tuesday speaking at the Atlanta University Center Consortium. "Across our nation, anti-voter laws could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote. That is one of six people in our country," Harris said. "And the proponents of these laws are not only putting in place obstacles, they are also working to interfere with our elections, to get the outcome they want and to discredit those that they don't. That is not how a democracy should work."

Democrat senators have given Republican colleagues until the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday Monday to take up a discussion on voting rights legislation, which has been blocked by filibuster rules. At that point, Democrats have indicated their intent to change Senate filibuster rules if Republicans don’t allow a discussion on voting proposals — the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.

Republican senators used the filibuster rule to block voting reform bills more than three times last year. The filibuster rule requires 60 of the 100 senators to agree to debate most legislation. The chamber is currently evenly split among Republicans and Democrats, with Harris, as vice president, able to cast a tie-breaking vote.

Biden said the filibuster is now being abused.

“State legislators can pass anti-voting laws by simple majorities. If they can do that, then the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority,” he said. “Today I’m making it clear, protect our democracy. I support changing the Senate rules however way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking action on voting rights.”

Biden referenced a recent Senate rules change to raise the debt ceiling in order to prevent an "economic crisis."

“Sen. (Raphael) Warnock said a few weeks ago in a powerful speech, ‘If we changed the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the U.S., we should be able to change the rules to protect the heart and soul of our democracy,’” Biden said Tuesday in the presence of Warnock (a Georgia Democrat) other state and federal lawmakers, and civil rights leaders.

Civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were among hundreds of people in attendance for Biden and Harris' visit to the Atlanta to advocate for federal voting legislation.

Nearly 20 states passed voting reform laws following the controversial loss of former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

Specifically, Biden criticized some components of Georgia’s new elections laws approved by Republican lawmakers in 2021. The law gives state officials authority to remove county election officials, limits the number of absentee ballot drop boxes in counties and puts limits on water or snacks being given to voters waiting in line to vote, Biden said.

Biden urged Republicans to “restore the bipartisan tradition of voting rights,” referencing former Republican presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Regan, George H.W Bush and George W. Bush whom he said supported the Voting Rights Act during their tenures.

Prior to the president and vice president’s appearance in downtown Atlanta, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said during a press conference that proposed federal voting laws are an attempt to weaken “election security under the guise of voting rights.”

He suggested that Democrats fear potential Republican victories this year, which may be driving their push to loosen voting restrictions.

Raffensperger gave his set of federal voting law proposals that he opined would restore integrity in elections and strengthen security. One of them is implementing national voter ID laws.

“Voter ID provides confidence that elections are secure,” Raffensperger said. “Under (Democrats’) proposal, anyone can vote simply by signing a paper saying they are who they claim to be.”

Raffesnperger also suggested amending the Constitution to allow only American citizens to vote in the country’s elections. He suggested outlawing ballot harvesting and doing away with the federal 90-day "blackout” period prevent mailings to residents before an election.

“As we saw in 2020, the 90-day federal blackout period before an election makes it essentially impossible for us to update our voting rolls during an election year” Raffensperger said.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp also held a press conference just 30 minutes before the Biden-Harris event, claiming the duo is using Georgia as a steppingstone to push what he called their "radical agenda." He defended Georgia's new election laws, SB 202, also called the "Election Integrity Act of 2021."

"SB 202 expands early voting opportunities, secures drop boxes around the clock, reduces long lines at polling places and implements the same voter ID requirement for absentee ballots that we've had for in-person voting for well over a decade," Kemp said. "We've seen proof that these common sense reforms have worked. municipal elections across the state last November went incredibly smooth."

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