What to Expect at Senate Panel’s Hearing on Election Integrity Law Cast as ‘Jim Crow’

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The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday to discuss a purported “assault on the right to vote.” 

The hearing, dubbed “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote,” comes as the far left continues to criticize Georgia’s new election integrity law.

Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who lost the 2018 governor’s race in Georgia and the founder of Fair Fight Action, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., are scheduled to testify to senators. 

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain what to expect at the Senate hearing.  The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news outlet.

Von Spakovsky also unpacks arguments for and against Georgia’s new election law and explains why it should not be likened to Jim Crow laws. 

We also cover these stories: 

  • Lawyers deliver closing arguments in the final day of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs anti-rioting legislation into law. 
  •  The Biden administration orders Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection to stop using the terms “illegal alien” and “assimilation.”

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

Virginia Allen: We are joined by Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow in the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Hans, thank you so much for being here.

Hans von Spakovsky: Sure, thanks for having me on.

Allen: Several weeks ago, President Joe Biden called Georgia’s new election law “Jim Crow of the 21st century.” Now the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Tuesday entitled “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote.” Hans, would you explain, is this Georgia new election bill, is it an assault on the right to vote?

Von Spakovsky: No, not at all. In fact, what really seems to be going on is a propaganda movement by Joe Biden and [Sen.] Dick Durbin and others. It has totally unconnected to the facts.

If you actually read the Georgia election reform bill, it actually, Georgia actually has better laws than Delaware, which is Sen. Biden’s home state. In some respects, better laws than Illinois, which is Dick Durbin’s home state. He’s, of course, chairing the Judiciary Committee hearing that’s coming up.

Just a quick example of this is that, look, Georgia has 17 days of early voting, including days on two weekends before an election. Biden’s home state of Delaware has no early voting.

Now, they’ve just passed a law so early voting will start in 2022, but in last year’s election, there was no early voting in Delaware, there was in Georgia. Even with the new law, Delaware will only have about half of the number of early voting days as Georgia. Joe Biden’s wrath ought to be directed perhaps at his home state.

Allen: So then where is this outrage coming from? What’s driving this if a state like Georgia isn’t as strict as President Biden’s home state?

Von Spakovsky: Well, like I said, I really think this is a propaganda effort. For years now, liberal left-wing advocacy groups have been pushing the idea. Well, two ideas, one, there’s no election fraud in the U.S., so we don’t need to worry about it.

And, two, that any measures that states take to try to secure the integrity election process like requiring an ID to vote, very basic requirement, that that is not needed because there is no fraud that ever happens and therefore, any kind of remedies like that are simply an attempt to suppress votes.

Of course, none of that is true, we do have fraud in this country and we should take basic security measures. They don’t prevent people from voting, but this is all an effort to, frankly, I think, make it easier to cheat and easier to manipulate election results.

Allen: Some of the common claims that we’re hearing about this Georgia bill is that it makes it harder for people to vote, especially, for minorities. It prohibits water and food from being handed out at polling places. It restricts voting by mail. Are these claims accurate? Are they founded in any way?

Von Spakovsky: No, again, they’re totally wrong. Again, comparing it to Delaware, Georgia has no-fault absentee balloting. That’s not the case in Delaware where you have to have an excuse before you’re allowed to vote by absentee ballot.

The claim about not giving water to voters is really one of the most ridiculous claims that we’ve seen in all of this. Let me tell you what the situation is.

Look, every state has laws, thank goodness, that prevent electioneering at polling places. In other words, campaigns and candidates can’t show up and start haranguing voters who are waiting in line to vote. They can’t campaign inside a polling place within a certain distance of voters standing in line. In Georgia it’s 25 feet or within 150 feet of the polling place.

A number of states like Georgia, like New York, a very blue state, also have provisions saying not only is there no campaigning allowed, but candidates and others cannot provide money, gifts, food, drinks to voters in line. Because, obviously, the idea there is that they may be trying to influence voters, and when they’re doing that, they’re really engaged in campaigning.

Georgia added a provision to its electioneering law that basically says, as I said, you can give no money or gifts, including but not limited to food and drink, to any elector within those distances the electioneering is prohibited. That’s almost identical to New York’s law, which nobody’s complained about. New York says you can’t give any meat, drink, tobacco, refreshment, or other provisions to voters waiting in line.

Nothing prevents the voters from bringing their own water or snacks, nothing prevents election officials themselves from providing water or snacks. It’s just that they don’t want people campaigning close to voters. So there’s nothing unusual about this provision. Like I said, many other states have similar provisions just like this.

Allen: Interesting. Well, Hans, you’re very familiar The Heritage Foundation’s voter fraud database, and one thing that we’re hearing conservatives say about this new Georgia bill is that it simply makes it harder for people to cheat. Could you just explain a little bit about how Georgia’s new election bill increases election security?

Von Spakovsky: Sure. If you look at the Election Fraud Database that we maintain at The Heritage Foundation—by the way, it’s the only one in the country—you’ll see that there are many, many cases involving absentee ballots.

That’s because they’re the easiest ballots to steal or alter or to pressure voters to vote a particular way because they’re the only ballots, again, that are voted outside the supervision of election officials and outside the observation of poll watchers.

One of the things that Georgia did was they extended their very good voter ID law to absentee ballot. Georgia’s had a voter ID law in place for more than a decade. They’ve had no problems with it at all. No one’s been prevented from voting.

Remember, that’s the big claim made against voter ID laws, but it only applied to in-person voting. They’ve extended it to absentee ballot. You either submit a photocopy of your ID when you request your absentee ballot or you simply write in the serial number of your Georgia driver’s license or the free photo ID that the state will issue to anyone who doesn’t already have an ID.

That is a great way of trying to ensure that when absentee ballots come in, it’s really the registered voter who filled it out, signed it, and sent it in. That’s one of the ways it has increased the security of the election process in Georgia.

Allen: Let’s talk a little bit about the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that’s happening today, Tuesday. The hearing is entitled “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote,” and it is discussing Georgia’s new election bill and presumably other states that are maybe adopting or have implemented similar legislation. What do you expect to see during this hearing?

Von Spakovsky: Again, I hate to keep using the word, but that’s really what is going on here, I expect to see a propaganda effort by the Democratic senators who were on this committee and they’re witnesses.

Because, really, when you compare Georgia’s election laws to the 50 states, to the District of Columbia, nothing it’s doing is out of the ordinary. … Many of its provisions are the same as many other states’, but they are trying to paint this picture as if it’s Jim Crow.

That, of course, is an absurd and actually an offensive claim to say, for example, that requiring somebody to provide an ID when they vote, particularly, when the state provides a free ID to anyone that doesn’t have one, but that’s the same as banning black Americans from restaurants and drinking fountains. That is patronizingly racist, I believe, and frankly, highly offensive to people who really suffered.

But what’s happening here is I think this is actually a ploy to try to undergird support for HR 1. Remember, HR 1 is the bill passed in the House, now sitting in the Senate, that it’s basically a complete federal takeover of the administration of elections across the country.

It would do things like void all state voter ID laws, and I think what they want to try to do here is paint this picture of, “Oh, look at what Georgia is doing. It’s so terrible. That’s why we need to pass HR 1.” Even though that’s just a completely false claim.

Allen: Ultimately, you believe that this attack on Georgia and really speaking out about Georgia’s new election law, ultimately, what the left is trying to do here is build support for really the federal takeover of elections in this bill known as HR 1, is that right?

Von Spakovsky: Yes, that’s exactly right. Because they can then use that, like I said, to basically get rid of all of the safety and security protocols that states have been putting in place.

Allen: Wow. So then, during the hearing Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary hearing, what are you going to be looking for? Are there individuals that you’re going to be watching closely? We believe that Stacey Abrams and Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock are likely to testify. What are you expecting to see from some of these individuals given this agenda that they likely have in mind?

Von Spakovsky: Well, frankly, I expect Stacey Abrams to make one misleading statement after another. If you look at all the claims that she has made since she lost her race for the governor, they have all turned out to be totally untrue.

She’s made this whole general claim that votes have been suppressed in Georgia because of things like the voter ID law. The evidence shows that’s totally untrue.

Just a quick example of this is, look, the ID law in Georgia for in-person voting went into place in 2008. Since then, not only has turnout not gone down, turnout has increased dramatically in the state, including for black and Hispanic voters, minority voters.

The evidence actually shows that all the claims she’s been making to try to explain her defeat in her race for governor just simply aren’t true at all. But I expect we’ll hear exactly the same, like I said, misleading and false claims again in her testimony.

Allen: What about members of the committee, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are there any individuals that you’re going to be watching closely?

Von Spakovsky: Well, I’m going to be interested to see how Dick Durbin, who’s the chair, threads the needle here. Again, I’ll give you a quick example of this.

We talked about how Georgia extended its ID requirement to absentee ballots. Well, one of the things they did was they put in this, basically, escape clause that says, “Look, if you don’t have a photo ID and you haven’t gotten the free ID that the state will provide you, well, you can satisfy it by providing a photocopy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document with your name and address on it.”

Well, the Georgia Legislature got that language from federal law. That is exactly a provision that’s in federal law.

In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act, and it actually put in a requirement that says that the first time you vote in a federal election, if you registered by mail, you have to provide either a photo ID or a copy of a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or a government document with your name and address on it.

Guess who voted for that bill and that federal provision, which Georgia just copied and which is supposedly Jim Crow, in 2002 when the Help America Vote Act passed the Senate? Why, Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

I think he’s going to have a bit of a hard time saying that the ID requirement in Georgia is Jim Crow when he voted for a similar provision.

Allen: Wow, interesting. What do you expect to come after this hearing? What happens next? Obviously, there’s a lot of continuing debate, I think a lot of frustration on both sides of the aisle. What can we expect to see from Congress?

Von Spakovsky: Well, there’s been a lot of focus, like I said, this bill, HR 1, passed through the House on a party-line vote. There was only one Democrat who voted against it, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who said his constituents didn’t like certain provisions in the bill.

The House passed it without hearings, so actually, it’s a bit unusual that the Senate actually seems to be holding hearings on HR 1 in these voting issues.

It’s all going to boil down to one or two Democratic senators. I think you’re, again, going to see a party-line vote. The focus is on folks like [Sen.] Joe Manchin, trying to convince him that he should not vote for this bill.

If necessary, I think Sen. [Mitch] McConnell has already promised that he’s going to filibuster this bill, which will then lead to a fight over whether the filibuster remains or whether Democrats try to get rid of it.

Allen: We’re really potentially looking here at a much larger and longer debate that could open a lot of other debates, including the controversy over the filibuster in the coming days and weeks.

Von Spakovsky: Yeah, that’s exactly right.

Allen: Well, Hans, we really appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.

Von Spakovsky: Sure, thanks for having me.

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