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Video: On U.S. Senate Floor, Mark Warner Slams Voter Suppression Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Calls for National Voter Protection Strategy

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Great stuff from Sen. Mark Warner:

ON SENATE FLOOR, WARNER SLAMS VOTER SUPPRESSION AMID CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK, CALLS FOR NATIONAL VOTER PROTECTION STRATEGY

~ Senator warns of “a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote.” ~

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), a member of the Senate Rules Committee responsible for election legislation, spoke on the Senate floor and warned of a rise in voter suppression tied to the coronavirus pandemic. He highlighted specific steps that states and the federal government should take to protect the right to vote, including implementing no-excuse absentee ballots, curbside voting, and expanded early voting opportunities. 

In a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Sen. Warner said in part, “Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is safe and secure this November. From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, we are already seeing a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote. And I fear that if we head into November without a plan… without a strategy for protecting the right to vote and ensuring equal access to the ballot box… we could see levels of voter suppression not seen since the Jim Crow era.”

He continued, “If we are going to preserve the integrity of our elections and the trust of the American people, it is essential that states and the federal government adapt to the challenge of this pandemic and expand access to the ballot box. In short, we need to make it easier and safer for Americans to exercise their right to vote.”

In his remarks, Sen. Warner highlighted the ways that voter suppression efforts disproportionately harm the most vulnerable Americans—particularly voters in communities of color. According to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, Black voters, on average, wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters, and Latino voters wait 46 minutes longer.

Speaking about voter restrictions that have been implemented in the name of COVID-19 safety this year, Sen. Warner said: “We know who these restrictions disenfranchise: it’s the poor… it’s the elderly… it’s workers just getting off their shift. And disproportionately, it is Black and Latino voters who face the brunt of these restrictions.”

Last week, Sen. Warner led all Democrats on the Senate Rules Committee in calling for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the National Association of State Election Directors, and the National Association of Secretaries of State to work proactively to counter any attempts to suppress vulnerable and historically-disenfranchised voters during the COVID-19 crisis. The letter included a series of recommendations to prevent voter suppression.

 

The full text of Sen. Warner’s remarks as prepared for delivery appears below:

Mr./Madam President, I rise today because Americans must be able to exercise their right to vote in a way that is safe and secure this November.

From Wisconsin to Georgia to Kentucky, we are already seeing a dangerous trend of making voters choose between their safety and their right to vote.

And I fear that if we head into November without a plan… without a strategy for protecting the right to vote and ensuring equal access to the ballot box… we could see levels of voter suppression not seen since the Jim Crow era.

It is true, we are in uncharted territory due to COVID-19. Of course, we must make sure that voters and poll workers are protected. We must make sure that polling places do not become another vector for spreading the virus.

But the way we do that is not by restricting access to the ballot box. Not in the United States of America. That is not how the world’s greatest democracy should meet this challenge.

Mr. President, if we are going to preserve the integrity of our elections… and the trust of the American people… it is essential that states and the federal government adapt to the challenge of this pandemic and expand access to the ballot box.

In short, we need to make it easier and safer for Americans to exercise their right to vote.

The good news is, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A number of states—red, blue, purple—have adopted a range of ‘convenience voting’ procedures that work quite well. Some of those procedures including ample early voting opportunities and no-excuse absentee ballots… both of which reduce the risk that voters will be forced to break social distancing guidance in order to vote. 

In my home state of Virginia, we have curb-side voting for seniors and people with disabilities.

This has greatly expanded access to the ballot for Virginians with health issues that prevent them from going into a polling place. 

Every single state already has some form of convenience voting… to support voters who can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. And every election cycle, Americans securely cast millions of votes using these programs. 

We need to build on the success of these programs to ensure that every voter, regardless of circumstance, can safely and easily vote in our elections.

Unfortunately, despite these effective and secure tools at our disposal, we have also seen states implement restrictions in the name of safety that have disenfranchised far too many Americans.

In Wisconsin’s April primary, for example, Milwaukee reduced its number of polling places from 180 to just 5 locations. We saw similar moves this month in Georgia and Kentucky.

We know who these restrictions disenfranchise: it’s the poor… it’s the elderly… it’s workers just getting off their shift. And disproportionately, it is Black and Latino voters who face the brunt of these restrictions.

According to a new report from the Brennan Center, Black voters, on average, wait 45 minutes longer to vote than white voters. And Latino voters wait 46 minutes longer.

This is not right, Mr. President. We have a moral obligation to make sure that our tools to counter COVID-19 are not used to intimidate and suppress voters.

Just last week, Senator Klobuchar and I sent letters raising the warning that bad actors could use testing, immunity and protective equipment as a pretense to turn away voters or increase the difficulty of reaching the ballot box on Election Day.

Ideally, our elections officials could come together around a national strategy… of preparing every polling place and precinct… for administering our elections during a pandemic.

Unfortunately, there are those, including the President, who have tried to politicize this issue. In fact, we’ve seen the President spreading utter misinformation about mail-in voting.

The President seems to have forgotten that he has voted by mail in the last three elections. But what he fundamentally fails to understand is that the right to vote belongs to the voters, not to the politicians. It is our job to make sure Americans can exercise their rights in a way that is safe and secure.

Mr. President, that’s why Congress must rise to the occasion and ensure Americans can vote safely and securely.

The time is now to start serious preparations on contingencies to protect our elections from both the pandemic and those who would take advantage of it. I am a sponsor of the bill Sen. Klobuchar has tried to UC tonight, and I am disappointed it was blocked from passing.

I look forward to continuing with this group and the rest of our colleagues to do so. Thank you.