Georgia voting law in spotlight at Senate judiciary hearing

Federal and state lawmakers, including some from Georgia, debated the recent state election reforms on Tuesday at a U.S. Senate hearing in Washington, D.C.

In a speech before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., made a case for federal voting rights legislation.

On Tuesday, the committee held a hearing entitled "Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote," to examine so-called examples of voter suppression enacted by state governments and discuss solutions to strengthen democracy. 

Warnock took aim at new state election reforms, particularly Georgia's "Election Integrity Act of 2021," saying they suppress voting by making it harder to vote by mail and cast a provisional vote. He also condemned provisions in the bill that grant state politicians the power to override local election officials. 

SB 202 sparked a backlash from critics, saying it addresses a non-existent problem and inordinately affects minority voters. The law's backers say it institutes common-sense measures to assure the public of election security. 

MORE: EXPLAINER: What does Georgia's new GOP election law do?

Warnock said to dissect election reforms piece-by-piece is a narrow form of analysis and mistakes the larger picture and context.

"History is watching us, our children are counting on us and we must pass federal voting rights legislation, no matter what," Warnock said.

RELATED: Fulton County Commission chair reacts to new election reform law

Warnock argued Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly "retaliated" against high voter turnout during the 2020 election and January senatorial runoffs in Georgia by "changing the rules" of elections. Warnock said Georgia and other states' legislation share a common thread that they are "predicated on the 'Big Lie'" that the outcome of the 2020 elections were the result of fraud. 

Georgia House Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Jan Jones, R-Milton, was a witness during the hearing who advocated for Georgia's reforms. Jones repeated a common refrain among the law's backers, that SB 202 makes it "easier to vote, hard to cheat."

RELATED: Gov. Kemp defends election laws after MLB moves game

She said the wave of mail-in ballots in 2020 "stressed elections" and state legislators had an "obligation" to review the process. 

"(SB 202) creates uniformity in all 159 counties," Jones said.

Jones argued an earlier cutoff to cast absentee ballots was created out of a request by local elections officials to "increase the success of voting," by ensuring ballots are submitted on time to be counted. She also addressed misinformation she claimed has entered mainstream debate of the law regarding no-excuse absentee voting.

"Let me be clear: Georgia did not eliminate no-excuse absentee voting," Jones said.

Jones said the debate over the law demonstrates "selective outrage" against red states when some blue states do not offer no-excuse absentee voting.

MORE: What is in Georgia's new election law?

Advocates for voting rights legislation, named after late former Georgia Rep. John Lewis, advocated for pre-clearance analysis by a non-partisan authority could root out potentially restrictive legislation before it's signed into law. 

Former Georgia legislator and gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said SB 202 demonstrates the need for federal reform.

"The John Lewis Voting Rights Act is a sigil to the protection of democracy," Abrams said.

Senate Republicans attacked Abrams for never conceding she lost the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.

Abrams claimed SB 202's provision to eliminated distributing refreshments to voters in line inordinately affects minority voters because minority voters are more likely to wait longer in line.

Jones said Georgia reforms address the possibility of long lines by requiring action if lines exceed one hour. She stated the law requires the election superintendent of the county to split voting precincts or add machines if lines exceed longer than one hour, according to the bill. 

Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., addressed Jones regarding the necessity for reform following the 2020 election, during which no evidence of widespread fraud was uncovered. Durbin asked Jones if the election was sound, why the changes?

"I'm here to discuss what's in Senate Bill 202, not here to relitigate the 2018 election, which my colleague Stacey Abrams never conceded, nor am I hear to relitigate 2020," Jones said.

WATCH: FOX 5 Atlanta live news coverage


Sign up for FOX 5 email alerts

Download the FOX 5 Atlanta app for breaking news and weather alerts.