After reintroducing a bill to protect voting rights with his fellow Democrats in Congress, U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock says the issue of voter suppression is a “911 emergency,” and a legislative response is needed to sustain American democracy.
“We are in the midst of an all-out assault on democracy and on the freedom to vote,” Warnock told theGrio.
Earlier this week, the Georgia lawmaker joined other Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate to reintroduce the Freedom to Vote Act. The sweeping legislation would eliminate barriers to voting and enhance election integrity and security.
Warnock, who made history in 2021 as the first Black man elected to the Senate from Georgia, said he is deeply concerned about the more than 300 bills introduced in 45 states that restrict voting – some of which became law in at least 14 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
The Georgia senator described the issue of voter suppression as “serious” and a fundamental threat to everyday freedoms. Warnock said Republican legislators passing laws to restrict early voting and vote by mail, among other things, are trying to “undermine and subvert the will and the voices of the people.”
“If you look at the rollback of affirmative action, if you look at a lot of the other efforts that are afoot,” he continued, “it is indicative of a party that knows that they’re on the wrong side of all of these arguments.”
Rather than changing their reasoning or their policies, noted the senator, Republicans are “trying to rig the system to get the outcomes that they want.”
Warnock contended that one of the greatest assaults on voting rights has been partisan gerrymandering, the drawing of districts to manipulate outcomes in favor of one party over another.
Republicans have found themselves in court over gerrymandering challenges in states where they are accused of diluting the voting power of Black voters by packing them into one district or strategically spreading them across several districts to minimize their impact on election outcomes. Such cases are currently being battled out in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Warnock’s home state of Georgia, plus others.
“This is democracy in reverse,” observed Warnock. “They’re trying to create a situation in which rather than the voters picking their representatives, the people who are in office are now trying to pick the voters.”
Letetia Jackson, a public policy advocate and plaintiff in the Allen v. Milligan case challenging Alabama’s congressional map, told theGrio: “You have to be dumb, deaf and blind not to see” the deliberate targeting of Black voters in redistricting efforts led by Republicans.
Jackson and other plaintiffs argue that Alabama’s congressional map violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because despite making up 27 percent of the voting population, Black voters do not have the same statistical opportunity to elect representatives of their choice as white voters.
The grassroots organizer said it is “important that we continue to push for legislation” like the Freedom to Vote Act and “fight gerrymandering to get rid of it once and for all.”
However, the reality of the legislation being passed in the 118th Congress is unlikely, as Republicans hold the majority in the House and still have the numbers in the Senate to filibuster the bill. Democrats and activists across the nation say that shouldn’t be a reason to not keep the fight for voting rights alive on Capitol Hill.
“In this country, if we had waited for an opportunity to be empowered to do anything, we would still be in pre-1965,” said Jackson.
Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, said her organization is glad to see Democrats pushing forth legislation to advance voting rights.
Campbell revealed she was informed that another previously failed voting rights bill, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, will also be reintroduced in Congress.
Though she and voting rights advocates everywhere were “disappointed that we couldn’t get things passed because of the filibuster” in the last session of Congress, Campbell noted that “the  election is coming, and we have to keep fighting.”
During a press briefing earlier this week, White House Press Secretary Karine-Jean Pierre welcomed the reintroduction of the Freedom to Vote Act.
“This is something that the president sees as a priority,” the spokesperson for President Joe Biden told theGrio. “He’s going to continue to call on Congress to act.”
“It sounds like they’re moving forward in the right direction,” Jean-Pierre said, “and we think that’s incredibly important.”
According to Sen. Warnock, who is also the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the right to vote is a “kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children.”
“Our prayers are stronger when we pray together,” he added. “I believe in democracy, and I’m going to keep fighting for it.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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