Voting-rights crusader Stacey Abrams urged senators on Tuesday to pass a Democratic bill that would set national standards for elections and overrule Republican-backed state voting integrity laws, even as she refused to concede she lost the 2018 Georgia governor’s race or accept responsibility for driving baseball’s All-Star game out of the state.
Democrats brought out Ms. Abrams as a star witness in their push to expand early voting and to beat back moves by several states, including Georgia, to require voter ID.
Ms. Abrams said states such as Georgia are seeing “a resurgence of Jim Crow-style voter suppression measures sweeping across state legislatures grounded in the ‘big lie’ about fraud and insecurity in the 2020 election.”
But the hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee became a showdown between Senate Republicans and Ms. Abrams, who has carried the banner of voting rights for the Democratic Party. Republican lawmakers accused her of hypocrisy for appearing to take both sides in Major League Baseball’s boycott of the state, and for still not publicly conceding the governor’s race that she lost to Republican Brian Kemp three years ago.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, challenged her: “Yes or no, do you still maintain the 2018 election was ‘stolen’?”
“It was stolen from the voters of Georgia,” Ms. Abrams replied. “Brian Kemp won under the rules that were in place. I will continue to disagree with the system until it is fixed. We do not know what they would have done, because not every eligible Georgian was permitted to participate fully in the election.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, accused Ms. Abrams of pressuring MLB to pull the All-Star game out of Georgia and then distancing herself from the move when there was a backlash in the state over the lost business.
“After all these efforts to smear Georgia as a ‘Jim Crow’ state, do you regret your central role in causing Major League Baseball to withdraw the All-Star game from Georgia?” Mr. Cotton asked.
Ms. Abrams said she didn’t believe a boycott was necessary, and she regrets MLB’s decision.
But she also said, “One day of games is not worth losing our democracy. I support anyone who will try to stop this type of bad behavior.”
Mr. Cotton told her that he doubted “your words will be very comforting” to people who will lose business from the game pulling out.
Democrats held the hearing titled, “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote” to debate newly passed Republican state election laws. They also aimed to bolster support for the For the People Act, which would set national standards for elections, requiring states to comply.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, defended the hearing’s purpose, saying the new state laws are racially discriminatory but have been “dressed up” as bringing integrity to voting.
Sen. Raphael Warnock, Georgia Democrat, characterized them as “a full-fledged assault on voting rights unlike anything we have seen since the era of Jim Crow.”
“[Some] are willing to sacrifice our democracy by using the Big Lie as a pretext for their true aim: some people don’t want some people to vote,” Mr. Warnock said.
Republicans immediately took issue with the title and rhetoric surrounding the hearing.
“I’m a fan of history. I try to learn from it. I don’t use it to try to insult my opponents,” said Sen, Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. “The title of this hearing is offensive and as a student of history, this title diminishes the very real challenges and unfairness that minorities endured in the Jim Crow south.”
Rep. Burgess Owens, Utah Republican, who testified at the Senate hearing, recalled growing up in the “Jim Crow” South, and said comparing Georgia’s law to the era of segregation is offensive.
“It’s disgusting and offensive to compare the actual voter suppression of that era that we grew up in to a state law that asks people to show an ID,” he said.
Georgia is not alone in passing a new election law, which Republicans say is aimed at protecting election integrity.
Iowa also passed a new law cutting down on early voting time, while the Texas Senate has moved to ban drive-through voting. Republicans in Michigan have moved to require ID to request absentee ballots, and the Florida legislature is considering a ban on ballot drop boxes.
Ms. Abrams also argued the Senate must pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which restores part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was struck down by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling did away with federal pre-clearance requirements from southern states when enacting new election laws.
But she ran into trouble during the lengthy hearing over her role in urging boycotts against her home state over the GOP-led election law, requiring voter ID to request an absentee ballot and not allowing political activists to distribute snacks and water while voters waited in line.
Poll workers, instead, are legally able to pass out water. Still, Ms. Abrams contends that’s racist.
“We have seen between 4- and 8-hour lines,” she said. “The overworked poll workers who are inside those buildings do not have the time to come out and hand out refreshments.”
Republicans pointed out that other states such as Connecticut, New Hampshire, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York do not offer “no excuse” absentee voting, quizzing Democrats about why they haven’t launched boycotts against those states.
And GOP lawmakers pushed back on allegations of voter suppression, calling two witnesses who refuted the argument that voter ID laws would decrease turnout.
Georgia Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones said only 3% of voters in Georgia do not have a driver’s license or a free government ID.
“I’m most concerned about their ability to participate in the 21st Century and modern society as a whole,” she said.
At one point, Mr. Durbin said the Georgia law “will make it harder for Georgians to vote early, or by absentee ballot.” Ms. Jones disputed his characterization.
“I’m here to discuss what’s in S.B. 202, not relitigate the 2018 election, which my former colleague Stacey Abrams never conceded,” she said. “What I can say is the bill does increase accessibility.”
Bill Gardner, a Democrat who is New Hampshire’s secretary of state, has overseen 12 presidential elections and said turnout has increased since his state passed a voter ID requirement in 2012.
The National Conference of State Legislatures says 36 states require voters to show ID. Voter ID requirements go back decades in the U.S.
The laws have become increasingly strict in some states — not just requiring some sort of proof of identification but also a photograph. More than a dozen states specifically request photo identification to cast a ballot. Indiana was the first state to implement a strict photo requirement, which was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008.
Voter fraud and duplicate voting can be prevented by voter ID laws, according to conservatives who point to other countries that require voter ID. The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Argentina and Brazil are among countries requiring voters to show identification in their elections.