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'Dripping in the blood of Jim Crow': Voting rights groups say GOP-backed bills in Georgia target Black voters

Their efforts, however, could be reversed by Republican-backed bills advancing in the Georgia Legislature that activists say are reminiscent of tactics used to prevent Black people from voting in the South during the Jim Crow era.

“We know that their targets are Black voters,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of the Atlanta-based Black Voters Matter. “These (legislation) notes are dripping in the blood of Jim Crow.”

Black Voters Matter, the Georgia NAACP, the New Georgia Project and other civil rights groups are now in a battle to protect Black voting power, launching a campaign this week to stop the voter restrictions from moving forward.

They are also demanding that Congress pass federal voting rights legislation that would roll back the state-level laws.

On Wednesday, the House took a step toward that by passing HR 1, also known as the For the People Act, which is a sweeping ethics and election bill that expands voting access.
The controversy over voting rights comes as the civil rights community honors the 56th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” this weekend for the first time without voting rights icon John Lewis, who died last year. Lewis has been lauded as a hero who fought tirelessly for equal voting rights for Black people. Voting rights leaders have vowed to keep his legacy alive.

Georgia’s state House passed a bill this week that includes several measures that restrict voting access, including a ban on automatic voter registration, a limit on Sunday early voting days and ballot drop boxes, and a number of restrictions and ID requirements for absentee voting. The bills come after former President Donald Trump made baseless claims of a rigged 2020 election, saying there had been widespread voter fraud in Georgia.
Albright said the proposals directly target the methods used to mobilize Black voters. He said limiting Sunday early voting, for example, is a direct attack on “Souls to the Polls”– which is a get-out-the-vote campaign led by Black churches. A CNN analysis found that Black voters made up 34.6% of the voters who cast early ballots on the three weekend voting days that could be eliminated under the proposal from Georgia lawmakers
The bill also prohibits free food and drinks from being served to people standing in line to vote. Volunteers often served pizza and chips to voters who stood in line for several hours at predominately Black precincts in the Atlanta area.
“Clearly, the attack is based on when it is and how it is that they know Black voters are being mobilized to turn out,” Albright said. “They know that they can’t win elections if we actually expand access to voting or even if we just maintain it.”
Martin Luther King III, the oldest son of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, said the Republican-backed measures are a more “sophisticated” version of the Jim Crow practices that prevented Black people from voting. For example, he noted that many Black people were forced to take literacy tests that were impossible to pass in order to vote during the Jim Crow era. Now they are being suppressed with shortened voting hours and limited days, he said.
“I think it certainly does go back to the Jim Crow era because it has a racist tone,” King said. “You’re targeting communities of color, and historically the African American community votes by and large for Democrats.”

A nationwide effort to ‘Protect Our Power’

Some Black voters in Georgia say the measures are discouraging and could impact turnout.
Calvin Payne of Vinings, Georgia, said many Black voters can’t afford to take off work or stand in line for hours to vote, so they need expanded access.
“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Payne said. “When we complicate things, that’s when people say, ‘OK, I don’t need to vote.’ ”
Albright’s Black Voters Matter and other groups are holding rallies, printing statewide advertisements, running phone bank campaigns, and seeking support from businesses and corporations to promote their efforts to halt the state laws from moving forward.
Their campaign has garnered support from the NBA, which is partnering with LeBron James’ More Than A Vote during the All Star events in Atlanta this weekend to raise awareness of how the state proposals suppress Black voters. The group is kicking off a campaign named Protect Our Power, which, in addition to fighting these laws in states, will look to mobilize Black voters in off-year and municipal elections.
The Georgia proposals mirror Republican-backed voting bills that have emerged across the country. As of February, state legislators in 43 states had introduced more than 250 bills with restrictive voting provisions, according to a tally from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Black lawmakers and leaders vow to protect voting rights

National Urban League President Marc Morial released a statement pleading for the Senate to act on HR 1.
“We have watched in dismay as state lawmakers around the country responded to record turnout among voters of color with aggressive, racially motivated restrictions on voting,” Morial said. “The House of Representatives admirably stood against this anti-democracy movement last night by passing a sweeping expansion of voting rights contained in the For the People Act. Now the Senate must do the same.”
Senate Democrats told reporters Wednesday they were determined to pass legislation to protect voting rights. Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia called the Republican-led state measures “undemocratic.”
“We must be clear: It’s not their job as politicians to choose their voters. It’s the job of voters to choose who will represent them,” Warnock said during a virtual roundtable event for Black journalists. “We’ll be working very hard to pass the For the People Act (and) the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore vital voting protections and expand access to the ballot, and we’ll be fighting every day to get this done.”

Georgia NAACP President James Woodall said voting restrictions advancing in the state House are unjust and could potentially be in violation of existing federal voting rights laws. Woodall said his NAACP chapter is prepared to take legal action if necessary.
“We need to create a situation where elections are not only safe, secure and accessible but they are also compliant with federal law,” Woodall said.

CNN’s Annie Grayer, Clare Foran and Dan Merica contributed.

Wall Street Journal: Third female former staffer accuses New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of inappropriate conduct

The Democratic governor already stands accused of sexual harassment by two women and unwanted advances against him by a third.
A former aide for Cuomo, Ana Liss, told The Wall Street Journal that the governor “asked her if she had a boyfriend, called her sweetheart, touched her on her lower back at a reception and once kissed her hand when she rose from her desk.”

CNN has reached out to Liss for comment.

Cuomo apologized earlier this month for making people uncomfortable and denied touching people inappropriately.

“I never touched anyone inappropriately. I never touched anyone inappropriately,” Cuomo said in his first public remarks addressing the scandal. “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable. I never knew at the time I was making anyone feel uncomfortable.”

Cuomo said during an appearance Wednesday that he was learning from his behavior.

“I understand that sensitivities have changed, and behavior has changed, and I get it. And I’m going to learn from it,” he said.
Liss served as a policy and operations aide to Cuomo from 2013 to 2015, according to the Journal.
Liss initially thought of Cuomo’s action as “harmless flirtations,” but she began to see it as “patronizing,” according to the Journal.
“It’s not appropriate, really, in any setting,” she told the Journal.

One such incident occurred when Liss was working at a reception at the Executive Mansion in Albany, New York, on May 6, 2014, according to the Journal.
“He came right over to me and he was like, ‘Hey, Sweetheart!'” Liss said.
She told the Journal that the “governor hugged her, kissed her on both cheeks and then wrapped his arm around her lower back and grabbed her waist.”
A photo shown by the Journal shows Cuomo’s hand around Liss’ waist.

In response to the claims made by Liss, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Cuomo, told CNN in a statement, “Reporters and photographers have covered the governor for 14 years watching him kiss men and women and posing for pictures. At the public open-house mansion reception, there are hundreds of people, and he poses for hundreds of pictures. That’s what people in politics do.”
Liss said she never made a formal complaint about the governor’s conduct but did later ask for a transfer to another office. Liss said the experience led to her seeking mental health counseling in 2014, according to the Journal.

With Covid relief and stimulus checks in sight, Biden asks for faith in US democracy

After the Senate passed its version of Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid relief package on a party-line vote Saturday, it now heads back to the House, where the chamber will vote Tuesday to approve changes made in the Senate. Democratic leadership is banking on progressive House Democrats tolerating the revisions made in the Senate, like stripping out a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Assuming the House passes it — likely also with a slim Democratic majority — the bill then goes to Biden’s desk for his signature.

It’s not the kind of governance Biden promised when he pleaded with Americans and lawmakers to try out unity and compromise during his inaugural address just 45 days ago.

But it is a signal that “help is on the way,” he said from the White House Saturday after the Senate passed its version of the bill, rattling off the legislation’s attributes.

“This democracy can still work,” Biden said.

Help for Americans hurt by the pandemic

Once it is signed into law, the bill will directly touch millions with aid checks and extended unemployment, beef up tax credits for families, put new money toward the federal vaccine rollout, spend $130 billion to get kids back in classrooms, earmark $350 billion for states and cities facing uncertain tax streams during the pandemic, extend more generous food assistance programs, help people struggling to pay rent and encourage companies to extend paid sick leave.
Democrats trying to address income inequality and a pandemic that has disproportionately hurt the poor and people of color can say they acted to help.
Related: What’s in the stimulus bill
While previous Covid relief packages during the Trump administration were bipartisan, Republicans — now out of power — united to oppose this package, arguing it was too much and too expensive. Democrats now own the federal Covid response, and they’ll get the praise for what works and the blame for what doesn’t.
Meanwhile, there is good news about the pandemic as more and more Americans get vaccines and infection rates drop, with optimism the country could be back to some level of normalcy this summer. A strong February jobs report added to the warnings of some economists that the package was too big and could lead to inflation.
But Democrats, pointing to the number of small businesses shuttered during pandemic restrictions and the millions of Americans still out of work, disagreed.

It’s up to the House now

House Democrats will have to stomach what Senate Democrats sent them if they want to pass something into law.
The effort to pass yet another pandemic stimulus has revealed a growing rift between progressives and moderates in the Democratic Party, which party leaders and Biden will spend the next two years addressing on every piece of legislation they try to pass.

Senators voted on a strict party line to pass the bill, which was a close call for Democrats in an evenly divided chamber. Now that it’s headed back to the House, progressives in the party will grouse at changes Senate Democrats made to shrink the number of Americans getting stimulus checks and cut supplemental unemployment benefits to $300 instead of the $400 endorsed by the House.
But the changes to the House bill were necessary to get support in the Senate from moderate Democrats, like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and allowed Democrats to pass the bill with a narrow majority.
Biden defended the changes at the White House Saturday, telling reporters they didn’t alter the “fundamental essence of the bill.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted every Democrat from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the democratic socialist from Vermont, to Manchin, the moderate from West Virginia, signed on to the bill.
“I am so proud of my caucus. I love each one of them. They are just so great. And you know what unites our caucus? Everyone knows, especially with 50 votes, we all have to pull together. Everyone knows.”
“Unity. Unity. Unity. That’s how we got this done,” the New York Democrat said later, beaming.

Democrats will take credit

There were moments where it looked like they would not pull together. Manchin rejected a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 that is supported by Sanders. Democrats were spared a more vicious fight on that issue when the Senate parliamentarian ruled it out of order in the bill, because Democrats used special budget reconciliation rules to get around a Republican filibuster.
But then, on the eve of the bill’s passage, Manchin balked at the generous extension of unemployment benefits and, with the all or nothing confidence of a person who knows just how valuable his 50th vote is, made demands that his colleagues had to oblige.

Passing the bill — even one that falls short of liberal expectations — is a feat in Washington when Republicans were set against it. Now Democrats, who want the government to put a shot in the arm of the economy and provide a safety net for people hurt by the pandemic, will take full credit.
Republicans argued the process and the product were both too partisan, which was proven by their unanimous opposition.
“I think it is a very strong message that this was — as we suggested all along — a very partisan process and a product that reflects a rushed, hurried attempt to try to get $2 trillion out the door to satisfy one of the President’s campaign promises,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, after the vote.
Democrats will argue voters and Americans will support the results, regardless of the process.
“This is a bipartisan package by any measurement because the public overwhelmingly, both parties wanted it,” said Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown, who spoke to CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield after the vote and said most Americans won’t care that it took dramatic negotiations and an all-nighter for Democrats to turn back Republican amendments and get the bill passed.
“The public cares about what we did, what these checks will mean, what it will mean to schools, what it will mean to health care,” he said, rattling off elements of the bill.
Democrats will now try to make sure voters know they accomplished something despite Republican opposition.

Still searching for Republican partners

While their hands will be full keeping Democrats united, both Schumer and Biden suggested this accomplishment by Democrats could show Republicans they need to play ball in the future. Next up could be an infrastructure proposal that could, theoretically, draw bipartisan support.

“There’s a lot of Republicans that came very close. They’ve got a lot of pressure on them. I still haven’t given up on getting their support,” Biden said.
He’ll need them if he wants more victories like this one. While Democrats exploited the budget process for this Covid relief bill, and passed it with 50 votes, that option likely won’t help them deliver other policy priorities, like election and police reform. The House passed sweeping measures to address both of those issues last week, but Republicans are sure to block them and most legislation requires 60 votes to break a filibuster under Senate rules.

In Georgia, Republicans Take Aim at Role of Black Churches in Elections

AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyIn Georgia, Republicans Take Aim at Role of Black Churches in ElectionsNew proposals by the G.O.P.-controlled Legislature have targeted Sunday voting, part of a raft of measures that could reduce the impact of Black voters in the state.Israel Small spent most of last fall helping members of his church with the absentee voting process.Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York TimesNick Corasaniti and March 6, 2021SAVANNAH, Ga. — Sundays are always special at the St. Philip Monumental A.M.E. church. But in October, the pews are often more packed, the sermon a bit more urgent and the congregation more animated, and eager for what will follow: piling into church vans and buses — though some prefer to walk — and heading to the polls.Voting after Sunday church services, known colloquially as “souls to the polls,” is a tradition in Black communities across the country, and Pastor Bernard Clarke, a minister since 1991, has marshaled the effort at St. Philip for five years. His sermons on those Sundays, he said, deliver a message of fellowship, responsibility and reverence.“It is an opportunity for us to show our voting rights privilege as well as to fulfill what we know that people have died for, and people have fought for,” Mr. Clarke said.Now, Georgia Republicans are proposing new restrictions on weekend voting that could severely curtail one of the Black church’s central roles in civic engagement and elections. Stung by losses in the presidential race and two Senate contests, the state party is moving quickly to push through these limits and a raft of other measures aimed directly at suppressing the Black turnout that helped Democrats prevail in the critical battleground state.“The only reason you have these bills is because they lost,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who oversees all 534 A.M.E. churches in Georgia. “What makes it even more troubling than that is there is no other way you can describe this other than racism, and we just need to call it what it is.’’The push for new restrictions in Georgia comes amid a national effort by Republican-controlled state legislatures to impose harsh restrictions on voting access, in states like Iowa, Arizona and Texas.But the targeting of Sunday voting in new bills that are moving through Georgia’s Legislature has stirred the most passionate reaction, with critics saying it recalls some of the racist voting laws from the state’s past.“I can remember the first time I went to register,” said Diana Harvey Johnson, 74, a former state senator who lives in Savannah. “I went to the courthouse by myself and there was actually a Mason jar sitting on top of the counter. And the woman there asked me how many butterbeans were in that jar,” suggesting that she needed to guess correctly in order to be allowed to register.“I had a better chance of winning the Georgia lottery than guess how many butterbeans,” Ms. Harvey Johnson continued. “But the fact that those kinds of disrespects and demoralizing and dehumanizing practices — poll taxes, lynchings, burning crosses and burning down houses and firing people and putting people in jail, just to keep them from voting — that is not that far away in history. But it looks like some people want to revisit that. And that is absolutely unacceptable.”Diana Harvey Johnson, a former Georgia state senator, said she remembered facing “dehumanizing practices” when registering to vote in her youth.Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York TimesThe bill that passed the House would limit voting to at most one Sunday in October, but even that would be up to the discretion of the local registrar. It would also severely cut early voting hours in total, limit voting by mail and greatly restrict the use of drop boxes — all measures that activists say would disproportionately affect Black voters.A similar bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, has indicated he supports new laws to “secure the vote” but has not committed to all of the restrictions.Voting rights advocates say there is deep hypocrisy embedded in some of the new proposals. It was Georgia Republicans, they point out, who championed mail balloting in the early 2000s and automatic voting registration just five years ago, only to say they need to be limited now that more Black voters have embraced them.Georgia was one of nine mostly Southern states and scores of counties and municipalities — including the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan — whose records of racist voter suppression required them to get federal clearance for changes to their election rules. The requirement fell under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the civil rights era law that curtailed the disenfranchisement of Blacks in the South.The changes Republicans are now pursuing would have faced stiff federal review and possible blockage under the part of the act known as Section 5. But the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, effectively gutted that section in a 2013 ruling.Even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, churches played a key role in civic engagement, often organizing nonpartisan political action committees during the 1970s and ’80s that provided, among other resources, trips to vote on Sunday where it was permitted. The phrase “souls to the polls” took root in Florida in the 1990s, according to David D. Daniels III, a professor of church history at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. Raphael Warnock, one of the Democrats who won a special Senate race in January, is himself the pastor of the storied Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta.Historically, churches provided Black congregants more than just transportation or logistical help. Voting as a congregation also offered a form of haven from the intimidation and violence that often awaited Black voters at the polls.“That was one of the things that my father said, that once Black people got the right to vote, they would all go together because they knew that there was going to be a problem,” said Robert Evans, 59, a member of St. Phillip Monumental. “Bringing them all together made them feel more comfortable to actually go and do the civic duty.”In Georgia, the role of the A.M.E. church in civic engagement has been growing under the guidance of Bishop Jackson. Last year he began Operation Voter Turnout, seeking to expand the ways that A.M.E. churches could prepare their members to participate in elections. The operation focused on voter education, registration drives, assistance with absentee ballots and a coordinated Sunday voting operation.Bishop Reginald T. Jackson in Atlanta. He began a program to better prepare church members to participate in elections.Credit…Matthew Odom for The New York TimesIt had an impact in last November’s election, even amid the coronavirus pandemic: According to the Center for New Data, a nonprofit research group, African-Americans voted at a higher rate on weekends than voters identifying as white in 107 of the state’s 159 counties. Internal numbers from Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group, found that Black voters made up roughly 37 percent of those who voted early on Sunday in Georgia, while the Black population of Georgia is about 32 percent.State Representative Barry Fleming, a Republican and chief sponsor of the House bill, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did three other Republican sponsors. In introducing the bill, Republicans in the Legislature portrayed the new restrictions as efforts to “secure the vote” and “restore confidence” in the electoral process, but offered no rationale beyond that and no credible evidence that it was flawed. (Georgia’s election was pronounced secure by Republican electoral officials and reaffirmed by multiple audits and court decisions.)Limiting Sunday voting would affect Black voters beyond losing the assistance of the church. It would inevitably lead to longer lines during the week, especially in the Black community, which has historically been underserved on Election Day.The bill would also ban what is known as “line warming,” the practice of having volunteers provide water, snacks, chairs and other assistance to voters in line.Latoya Brannen, 43, worked with members of the church and a nonprofit group called 9 to 5 to hand out snacks and personal protective equipment in November.“We’ve learned that giving people just those small items helps keep them in line,” Ms. Brannen said. She said she had occasionally handed out bubbles to parents who brought young children with them.If Sunday voting is limited, it could induce more Black Georgians to vote by mail. During the pandemic, churches played an instrumental role in helping African-Americans navigate the absentee ballot system, which they had not traditionally used in the same proportion as white voters.At Greater Gaines Chapel A.M.E., a church about a half-mile from St. Philip Monumental, Israel Small spent most of last fall helping church members with the absentee process.“We took people to drop boxes to help make sure it would be counted,” said Mr. Small, 79. He said he was angered to learn this winter that Republicans were moving to restrict mail voting, too.Among the changes Republican state legislators have proposed is a requirement that voters provide proof of their identification — their license numbers or copies of official ID cards — with their absentee ballot applications.That signals a shift for Republicans, who have long controlled the Statehouse; in 2005 they passed a similar proposal, but for in-person voting.Pastor Bernard Clarke of St. Philip Monumental A.M.E. church has marshaled the effort to get his congregation to the polls for five years.Credit…Stephen B. Morton for The New York TimesThat measure included a new “anti-fraud” requirement that voters present one of a limited set of government-issued identification cards, like a driver’s license, at voting stations.The restrictions affected Black voters disproportionately, data showed. At the same time, state Republicans were moving to ease the process of absentee voting — predominantly used by white voters then — by stripping requirements that absentee voters provide an excuse for why they couldn’t vote in person and exempting them from the new photo-identification requirement.Justice Department lawyers reviewed the proposals under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and found that the new ID law would likely make voting disproportionately harder for Black citizens. The attorneys recommended that the George W. Bush administration block it.In a memo that the department’s political leadership ultimately disregarded, staff lawyers noted that a sponsor of the legislation had told them that she believed Black voters were likely to vote only when they were paid to do so, and that if the new law reduced their voting share it was only because it would limit opportunities for fraud.The memo also stated that the law’s sponsors defended the more lenient treatment of mail voting — like its exemption from the ID provision — by arguing that it was more secure than in-person voting because it produced a paper trail.Now, after an election year in which Mr. Trump repeatedly and falsely disparaged mail voting as rife with fraud, state Republicans are arguing that mail-in voting needs more restrictions.There is no new evidence supporting that assertion. But one thing did change in 2020: the increase in Black voters who availed themselves of absentee balloting, helping Democrats to dominate the mail-in ballot results during the presidential election.“It’s just really a sad day,” Mr. Small, from the Greater Gaines church, said. “It’s a very challenging time for all of us, just for the inalienable right to vote that we fought so hard for, and right now, they’re trying to turn back the clock to try to make sure it’s difficult,” he said.Pastor Clarke of St. Philip Monumental said the Republican effort to impose more restrictions could backfire, energizing an already active electorate.“Donald Trump woke us up,” he said. “There are more people in the congregation that are more aware and alert and have a heightened awareness to politics. So while we know that and we believe that his intentions were ill, we can honestly say that he has woken us up. That we will never be the same.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story