For The Record

Ossoff proposes federal response to new state election laws in Right to Vote Act

By: - August 5, 2021 7:02 pm

Sen. Jon Ossoff has introduced a bill he says will help protect voting rights from laws passed by state legislatures. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder (file photo)

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff introduced legislation Wednesday that he says will protect Americans’ right to vote from state legislatures.

“We see that politicians in Georgia and in states across the country are seeking to restrict access to the ballot, targeting Black voters just to gain a partisan advantage in elections,” Ossoff said at a virtual press conference Thursday. “The Right to Vote Act of 21 would establish for the first time an affirmative right to vote for U.S. citizens in federal statute.”

If it becomes law — a big if, given the partisan divide in Congress and the inability of the parties to agree on what is wrong with the nation’s election system — the Right to Vote Act will allow citizens to challenge policies that restrict voting access in court.

“When a citizen challenges such a state measure in court, the state would then have to demonstrate that whatever measure they’ve implemented that restricts access to the ballot serves some specific important legitimate governmental interest, and the citizen, the voter, could then further challenge the state to demonstrate not just that it serves a specific important legitimate interest, but that it’s the least restrictive means of doing so,” Ossoff said.

Ossoff said the legislation builds on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but it is not limited to claims of racial bias. 

Ossoff’s bill comes as Georgia Democrats fume over a new Georgia voting law that makes sweeping changes to the state’s electoral system, including shortening the timeframe to request a mail-in ballot, capping the number of absentee ballot drop boxes, adding a mandatory Saturday early voting day and requiring photo ID to request an absentee ballot.

Democrats have dubbed the law Jim Crow 2.0, arguing that it will prevent Georgians from casting ballots and have a disproportionate effect on people of color.

Republicans say the measures are needed to prevent widespread voting fraud. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has rejected right-wing conspiratorial claims that fraud cost the GOP the 2020 election in Georgia and has also defended the state’s voting overhaul, even though it removes him as a voting member of the State Election Board, saying last week that the bill “was passed to expand the ways Georgians are able to vote, while simultaneously strengthening the security of the vote and making it harder to cheat.”

On Thursday, Raffensperger’s office announced plans to mail notifications this week to 185,666 people who have had no contact with Georgia’s election system for at least five calendar years by voting, requesting an absentee ballot, signing a petition, updating their registration by changing their address or renewing their driver’s license.

Their registrations will be classified as inactive if they do not respond within 30 days. An inactive status does not prevent someone from voting, but if they remain inactive for two more election cycles, they will be mailed another notice asking them to confirm their registration, and will have their registration canceled if they do not.

Many people on the list have likely moved out of state, said Raffensperger, citing U.S. Census data estimating that 250,000 people move into and out of Georgia every year.

“Accurate voter lists are fundamental to election integrity,” Raffensperger said in a statement Thursday. “They ensure ineligible people cannot vote, allow counties to effectively allocate resources so there are no long lines, and help make sure voters get accurate information about casting their ballot.”

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Ross Williams
Ross Williams

Before joining the Georgia Recorder, Ross Williams covered local and state government for the Marietta Daily Journal.Williams' reporting took him from City Hall to homeless camps, from the offices of business executives to the living rooms of grieving parents. His work earned recognition from the Georgia Associated Press Media Editors and the Georgia Press Association, including beat reporting, business writing and non-deadline reporting. A native of Cobb County, Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Atlanta's Oglethorpe University and a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University.