Voting rights groups tell Biden to skip Atlanta trip without concrete plan for federal legislation

Activists criticise ‘empty gesture’ as president plans to give speech on voting rights from Georgia

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 07 January 2022 22:46
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A coalition of voting rights groups from Georgia has issued a stern message to President Joe Biden, who plans to visit Atlanta with Vice President Kamala Harris to deliver remarks on threats to the right to vote.

The message: Without a concrete plan for breaking up the filibuster that has repeatedly blocked passage of federal voting rights protections, don’t bother coming.

“Georgia voters made history and made their voices heard, overcoming obstacles, threats, and suppressive laws to deliver the White House and the US Senate,” the groups said in a joint statement on 6 January, pointing to Georgia voters’ election of two Democratic senators and Mr Biden’s victory against Donald Trump in the state.

“In return, a visit has been forced on them, requiring them to accept political platitudes and repetitious, bland promises,” they wrote in a statement that was first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and shared with The Independent. “Such an empty gesture, without concrete action, without signs of real, tangible work, is unacceptable.”

The groups – which include Black Voters Matter Fund, the Asian American Advocacy Fund, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and the GALEO Impact Action Fund – “reject any visit by President Biden that does not include an announcement of a finalized voting rights plan that will pass both chambers, not be stopped by the filibuster, and be signed into law.”

“Anything less is insufficient and unwelcome,” they wrote.

The president and vice president are expected to travel to Georgia on 11 January to deliver remarks defending “the constitutional right to vote and the integrity of our elections from corrupt attempts to strip law-abiding citizens of their fundamental freedoms and allow partisan state officials to undermine vote counting processes”, according to the White House.

The visit follows the president’s most forceful condemnation yet of the tidal wave of GOP attempts to restrict ballot access and consolidate election oversight into the hands of Republican-dominated state legislatures.

“Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written – not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it. Not to strengthen or protect our democracy, but because the former president lost,” the president said in his speech in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall on Thursday.

“It’s wrong, it’s undemocratic, and frankly, it’s un-American,” he said.

His remarks echoed similar speeches against GOP legislation, though he similarly has not announced any remedies other than passage of voting rights legislation in Congress that has languished with a filibuster that is almost certain without Democrats aligning behind a plan to amend it.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to change the Senate’s filibuster rules on or before 17 January, Martin Luther King Jr Day, if Republicans once again obstruct a vote to bring such legislation to the floor.

A growing body of lawmakers and civil rights advocates have pressed Democratic senators to dismantle the Senate’s procedural rules, as protests outside the White House and hunger strikes have demanded that the president push his party to intervene. Senate Democrats need the support of at least 10 Republicans to reach a 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster.

Democratic US Senator Kyrsten Sinema has signalled that she is not willing to amend the 60-vote rule, potentially stymying her party’s efforts to protect the right to vote.

In the wake of the Capitol riots, which sought to halt the certification of Electoral College results from the 2020 presidential election, Republican state lawmakers – buoyed by the same baseless “stolen election” narrative that fuelled the attack – have passed at least 32 new laws in 17 states to change the rules of election administration and strip oversight from election officials.

GOP legislators filed at least 262 such bills in 41 states in 2021 alone, and more are expected as legislative sessions resume in 2022, according to States United Democracy Center.

A parallel effort saw the passage of at least 24 laws in 19 states restricting ballot access, after GOP legislators filed more than 440 bills in 49 states last year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.

More than a dozen bills restricting ballot access have been pre-filed ahead of 2022 legislative sessions in four states, and at least 88 bills in nine states will carry over from 2021 sessions.

In Georgia, that includes passage of Senate Bill 202 – the subject of a lawsuit from the US Department of Justice for alleged violations of the Voting Rights Act.

The law was passed with “knowledge of the disproportionate effect that numerous provisions, both singly and together, would have on Black voters’ ability to participate in the political process on an equal basis with white voters,” according to the Justice Department.

Voting rights group asserted that “Georgia will not be used as a two-dimensional backdrop, a chess piece in someone else’s ineffectual political dealings.”

“Georgia voters are more than just convenient props in a political image game. Georgians are fighting every day to protect our freedom to vote from unrelenting attacks. We are tired, but we persist in doing the work,” the statement said.

To Mr Biden and Ms Harris, they say: “We have voted, we have advocated, and we have organized. We have done the work. Now, it is time for you to deliver, and for you to do the work.”

The groups reject “any political visit that does not also come with policy progress – with signs of clear work done, of something accomplished. We reject any visit that fails to begin with the question, ‘How does this serve the people of Georgia?’ It is time for final action on voting rights, and Georgians are waiting.”

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