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Outcry is mounting from Democrats and voting rights groups over the law signed yesterday in Georgia that places a wave of new restrictions on voting in that state - restrictions like limiting drop boxes, requiring ID to vote absentee and making it a crime to offer water to voters standing in line. Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, denounced the bill yesterday.
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RAPHAEL WARNOCK: What we have witnessed today is a desperate attempt to lock out and squeeze the people out of their own democracy.
CORNISH: Now Republicans in state legislatures nationwide are working to overhaul voting rules and what could be the biggest wave of voting restrictions in decades. The Brennan Center for Justice advocates for the expansion of voting rights and tracks this legislation nationwide. Its president, Michael Waldman, joins me now.
Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL WALDMAN: Great to be with you.
CORNISH: It's important to say that some of the most criticized proposals in this Georgia bill actually didn't make it to the final version - right? - banning early voting on Sundays, which many saw as targeting Black voters specifically. What is in the final bill that stands out to you?
WALDMAN: Well, there was a really big outcry from people who saw their right to vote being restricted. It makes it a crime to give a granola bar or a bottle of water to someone waiting to vote. And we know that in Georgia and too many other places, those long lines to vote are in Black communities and communities of color. There are limits also on the ability to do mobile voting, which is something that only has taken place in Georgia in Fulton County, which is predominantly Black. Both the original proposal and the laws that passed target Black voters and voters of color with uncanny accuracy.
CORNISH: We've been hearing from Republicans for some time across the country the concerns they had about expansion of voting options in the last election. How does this legislation just signed into law in Georgia compared to the efforts in other states?
WALDMAN: Well, there is a wave of proposed restrictions on voting all over the country. The Brennan Center counted 253 last month, and it's actually higher now - the most push for this since the Jim Crow era. We had the highest voter turnout since 1900. Voters used and really liked these new options of vote by mail when they had access to that, of early voting when they had access to that. And instead, a lot of these proposals would cut back on those.
CORNISH: You said earlier that this is among the most significant voting restriction pushes since the Jim Crow era. By what metric?
WALDMAN: In the Jim Crow era, there were laws that looked neutral on their face but were really targeted at Black voters. It took the civil rights movement, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the bloodshed in Selma and other places to undo that and make it so that everybody who's eligible to vote really would have access. These laws are targeted in a way to make it harder for people to vote but especially for people of color to vote. That's heading in the wrong direction in our history and at the moment.
CORNISH: What should we look for going forward - meaning, will there be legal challenges to this law? Do you expect to see similar legislation spread in other statehouses, given that there are a good deal of state houses that are Republican majority with Republican governors?
WALDMAN: In 2021, it's really something of a great political clash. You've got states like Georgia rushing to implement new voting laws to make it harder to vote, especially for people of color. At the national level, you have Congress considering voting rights legislation. The For the People Act, which passed the House of Representatives - the For the People Act would stop these voter suppression laws cold, stop them in their tracks. Which will prevail - the voter suppression wave in the states or the voting rights wave in Congress?
CORNISH: That's Michael Waldman from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan group that advocates for the expansion of voting rights.
Thanks for your time.
WALDMAN: Thank you.
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