ATLANTA — Sen. Raphael Warnock returned to Georgia this week, visiting a group of volunteers with the Northeast YMCA food distribution center in Marietta Friday morning.
The visit was centered on how the COVID relief bill could aid their efforts, but the volunteers made sure to tell Warnock how they use their work as a vehicle to promote access to other community resources, including the ballot box.
Warnock had spent the early hours of the morning returning home from the Fulton County jail with a member of his congregation. State Rep. Park Cannon was released after being arrested at a viral scene at the state capitol earlier in the evening. Cannon, who was knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s door as he signed Senate Bill 202 into law, was pulled out of the building by state police. The images and video became as newsworthy and controversial as the new law.
Cannon, a Black lawmaker and the youngest member of the state House of Representatives, is now facing felony obstruction and preventing or disrupting General Assembly charges for knocking on Kemp’s door. Police describe her as beating on the door, while video shows her continuing to knock in opposition to the new voting measures.
Those measures cement sweeping changes to the way Georgians will vote—decreasing absentee ballot drop boxes, requiring more ID in the absentee ballot process and expanding early voting periods from an earlier version of the bill, but calling on counties to option certain weekend days within the period. It also gives the state greater power and influence over elections boards that oversee county-run elections and criminalizes passing out food and water in voting lines within 150 feet of a polling place.
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After talking to the volunteers, Warnock told reporters he found GOP state leaders’ tone and support of new voting measures interesting, given Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s declaration that Georgia had run one of the most secure elections in state history in 2020. It was an election marred by disinformation after Republican losses.
“So, what’s the purpose of all of this? So you’re literally going to make public policy based on a lie?” asked Warnock.
He began describing the horror of Jan. 6, a deadly insurrection steeped in the conspiracy of a stolen election.
“I want to know from those who are using the premise of that assault as the basis for a craven takeover of power in Georgia … why they’re okay with that, and somehow the actions of a state legislator knocking on the door of a governor who’s signing a law that impacts her constituents…. why her actions are so dangerous and criminal that she got charged with two felonies.
“In various ways, we’re gonna keep on knocking on that door, because that wasn’t just Rep. Cannon knocking on that door,” Warnock continued. “The people are knocking on that door, saying, ‘This democracy belongs to us. It doesn’t belong to the politicians.’”
At the same time, Kemp was on a vaccine encouragement tour in rural Georgia. A small group of protestors had gathered at Liberty Plaza across from the state capitol, in support of Cannon.
Kemp referred specifics on Cannon’s arrest to state police.
“It’s unfortunate that a sitting state representative would actually stomp and kick a Georgia State Patrol officer,” Kemp added.
He touted the voting laws as ways to regain confidence in Georgia’s elections.
“It continues to, I think, allow Georgia to have accessible, fair elections in Georgia,” Kemp said, adding to comments made the prior night on Fox News in which he defended the measures as election integrity reform.
In a late afternoon release President Joe Biden told reporters he was having the Justice Department look into the law. Biden likened the new voting measures to Jim Crow era rule, causing Kemp to respond with criticism of “President Biden, the left and the national media” calling the measures into question.
“This bill expands voting access, streamline(s) vote-counting procedures and ensures election integrity,” Kemp’s statement read. “There is nothing ‘Jim Crow’ about requiring a photo or state-issued ID to vote by absentee ballot—every Georgia voter must already do so when voting in-person.”
Meanwhile, there are newly-filed federal lawsuits tied to the controversy.
One was filed hours after the bill signing on behalf of voting rights groups, and another billion-dollar defamation suit was filed by Dominion Voting Systems against Fox News. Dominion is Georgia’s voting machine supplier. Just last month, its CEO spoke to the state elections board, reporting its processes and answering questions tied to conspiracies that put Georgia in the national spotlight.