WASHINGTON — Two high-profile Georgia politicians quarreled over voting rights on Wednesday during a virtual U.S. House hearing over ensuring access to the polls during a pandemic.
Rep. Doug Collins, a Gainesville Republican who’s running for a Senate seat this fall, sparred against Stacey Abrams, who launched the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight 2020 after she lost her bid to be Georgia’s governor in 2018. Abrams is widely considered a contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate on the Democratic ticket in 2020.
Abrams and other voting rights advocates told lawmakers at the hearing that state and federal governments must do more to ensure that all eligible U.S. voters can safely vote by mail during the pandemic if they choose to. They warned that insufficient policies or funding shortfalls that ensure safe voting could force citizens to jeopardize their health as they head to the polls.
Collins lamented the fact that Georgia is often held up as a state where voter suppression occurs. “Simply, the numbers don’t show that,” he said, pointing to data showing increased turnout of minority groups in recent elections.
That’s not “the appropriate test of access to our democracy,” Abrams said.
“We know that in the United States, often we see — as a response to suppression — an attempt to respond by increasing presence. That does not mean that every person who attempts to participate is allowed to do so,” she said. That is the equivalent, she added, of saying “that because more people get into the water, suddenly there are fewer sharks.”
Collins also disputed statements from Democrats and witnesses that voters who can request mail-in ballots for any reason are being forced to jeopardize their health by going to the polls.
“Where is the choice to put your life in danger, if, such as in our home state of Georgia, anyone can request an absentee ballot and get it?” he asked, accusing Democrats of overblowing the risks to make a political point.
“It is not a choice,” Abrams replied, “if you apply for an absentee ballot, but the infrastructure of the state is insufficient to meet your request.” She and others are prodding the federal government to send more funding to states to expand mail-in voting and early voting.
“In the state of Georgia, for example, yes, millions of people have requested a ballot, but not everyone has received it because the state does not have the funding at the local or state level to meet the needs, and that is going to be expanded when we get to November,” she said.
Abrams added that she’s working in other states as well, including some that have restrictions on who can vote by mail.
“I speak for voters in every single state in our nation, particularly voters of color, who wish to use this choice to vote by mail but may not be able to,” she said.