Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) spoke on campus about the state of voting rights legislation in the United States on Wednesday.
The event, titled “Race, Religion, and the Assault on Voting Rights,” was held in Lohrfink Auditorium and featured Warnock in conversation with Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Al.) and Rev. Jim Wallis, the inaugural director of the Center for Faith and Justice, a research center that studies the intersection of faith and politics.
Voting is deeply tied to the human condition and should be a human right, according to Warnock.
“A vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children,” Warnock said. “I believe that is sacred because at root, the vote is about your voice, and your voice is about your human dignity, and we have to stand up for that.”
This year alone, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that made it harder for Americans to vote, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The laws include criminal charges for handing out water or snacks to voters in Georgia or submitting ballots for those who may need assistance voting in Iowa and Kansas. Compounding the issue, Senate Republicans have invoked the filibuster three times in the past year to block the advancement of legislation to protect voting rights.
Warnock, who serves as a pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said pushback against voting rights in his home state and across the country is opposite to U.S. democratic values.
“What’s going on in Georgia and all across our country is very serious,” Warnock said at the event. “It is an all out assault on our democracy, and those of us who believe in democracy have to take up this fight, and so I’m deeply honored to be in this struggle with you to fight for our country to fight for our democracy because I believe in democracy.”
Making voting easier is a straightforward policy for politicians to support, according to Sewell.
“Voting rights, especially among the elected, should not be a partisan issue,” Sewell said at the event. “We should all want, especially as elected officials, our constituents and the people to vote. After all, the vote is your voice in this democracy.”
Sewell is the sponsor of H.R. 4, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, which establishes new criteria for states to receive preapproval from the U.S. Department of Justice before making changes to laws that affect voting rights. Though the bill passed the House of Representatives on Aug. 24, Senate Republicans blocked passage of the bill in the Senate on Nov. 3.
Warnock has also worked on voting rights legislation in the Senate, co-sponsoring S. 2747, the Freedom to Vote Act. The bill includes several provisions that address voter access and voter registration, such as extending early voting and creating a national voter validation standard. Senate Republicans filibustered the bill Oct. 20.
Voting rights help preserve other democratic rights and are at the core of the U.S. mission, according to Warnock.
“It’s about the broadening of communities,” Warnock said. “For me, this is deeper than any kind of partisan political argument. I sit here knowing that you won’t win on the face. But that idea of one person, one vote — that’s the covenant that we have with one another as an American people, and we ought to defend it with all of our might.”
Warnock said politicians should push voting rights legislation to restore faith in the American government.
“We’ll keep pushing the issue,” Warnock said. “But I think history will judge us harshly, and it should if we don’t find a way to do something about this. We may well have crossed a Rubicon that will make it difficult for us to set things right for another generation. And so we’ve got to do everything we can to pass both of these bills.”