Voting rights activist: Georgia voting bill is Jim Crow with cologne and makeup

Georgia Republicans are advancing a bill to change state voting laws without two controversial restrictions, for now. Cliff Albright, co-founder and executive director of the Black Voters Matter fund, spoke to CBSN's "Red & Blue" host Elaine Quijano about his view of the legislation.

Video Transcript

ELAINE QUIJANO: Georgia Republicans are moving ahead with bills to change the state's voting laws. Two controversial restrictions are being left out-- for now. The latest versions still limit the time people have to request an absentee ballot, restrict access to ballot drop boxes, and make it a crime for anyone to hand out food or water to voters standing in line.

But gone are limits on absentee mail ballots. The original proposal would have ended no-excuse absentee voting that's been available in Georgia since 2005. There's also no longer limits on Sunday voting. It's historically been a popular day for Black churchgoers to hold "souls to the polls" voter drives.

The current bills actually expand weekend voting, adding an additional Saturday for early voting to the calendar. But this all could still change when the state House and Senate meet to work out the differences in their bills. They'll have to work quickly to pass something before their session ends when the calendar turns to April next week.

Cliff Albright joins me now with more. He is a co-founder and Executive Director of the Black Voters Matter Fund, which pushes for expanded voting rights and access. Cliff welcome. Thanks very much for being with us. So Georgia Republicans are making the claim that these bills actually expand voting since they mandate weekend voting days. How would you respond to that? And what are your thoughts on the current bill?

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, so I'll start with the second-- and thanks for having me. I'll start with the second part of the question first. It's still a voter suppression bill. It's still, actually-- you can't just take a bill that had, you know, dozens of provisions of voter suppression, take away a couple and then act like you somehow expanded voting access. You know, as I've said elsewhere, basically this is still a Jim Crow bill, all they've done is put a little makeup and cologne on Jim Crow, but it's still Jim Crow.

In terms of the expanded access, you know, it's almost funny that they make that claim, because when you look at the provisions that still remain, you know, when you look at-- when you just look at the fact that even on the weekend voting what they did was they left it in for the general elections, but they take it out for runoff elections. It's actually buried in the bill. And so they're trumpeting the fact that, oh, well, we revised it, and we-- you know, we expanded, we added an extra day, but they actually reduce early voting-- or weekend early voting during runoffs.

And what we know is in this most recent election, if this process had been in place, if this law had been in place for this most recent runoff election, it would have cut off thousands of voters who actually used the weekend voting during a runoff, and we would have had an exactly-- we would have had a different result in this most recent runoff election. They know-- they count on elections going to runoffs and then the turnout going down. And now they've-- they've reinforced that by taking away the weekend early voting.

But the most dangerous provisions of this bill is actually one of the provisions where they get to weaken the local boards of elections. They've got a state takeover process buried in this bill, which would allow them, if they don't like the way that a local board of elections is certifying its results, that the state could come in, take over that local board, and then certify the results that they want to have certified. So again, if this law was in place for this most recent election, all these attempts that we saw to overturn an election would have actually been made possible by the provisions in this law.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, this bill is still subject to further change when the state House and Senate negotiate in what's called a conference session. What further changes are being proposed that have a reasonable chance of passing?

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, I mean, basically, we're saying that all of these voter suppression provisions need to come out. You listed, you know, some of them. You know, they've still got photo ID provisions in there. They make the drop boxes almost completely useless. They make the timing of the elections just completely unworkable.

Again, hundreds of thousands of voters, if this was in place, would not have been able to cast their votes in the most recent election, which would have changed the outcomes of not only the presidential, but of two Senate races. From our perspective, what we would love to see, if you want to really talk about expanding voter access and fixing the voting system, there's a lot of things that they can do, some of which is actually included in HR 1, in the federal legislation, things like mandating more days of-- of early voting, more hours for early voting, make it easier for people to actually get registered to vote.

We'd love to see the same thing that took place in COVID in the first-- in the primary elections, where the secretary of state actually sends out a ballot-- vote by mail applications, even without people asking for them, not the ballots, but the applications. That was something that helped us to get the record turnout that we saw, even going back to the primary. There's no reason we can't do that on a regular basis, just like you have states that do their entire elections by vote by mail. So there are lots of things we can talk about if you are serious about expanding voter access, but that's not what this is. And they're not even trying to hide the fact that this is really just a play so that they can guarantee that they'll be able to win elections in spite of the fact that they no longer have a majority of the votes.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So the Black Voters Matter Fund is running a campaign pressuring corporations donating to the sponsors of these bills, including AT&T, Delta, and Coca-Cola. Tell us about that campaign and what it is you ultimately want.

CLIFF ALBRIGHT: Yeah, what-- what we want is for these companies to live up to all the glowing statements that they put out in the midst of the summer of protest, you know, companies like Coca-Cola, UPS. And these are companies that are based right here in Georgia, right. These companies put out all kinds of statements talking about how they support racial equity and how they support social justice.

But now in the time of-- where we need them the most to take a stand, they've been silent. In fact, they've actually been worse than silent. In many ways, they've been complicit, because they've donated funds not just to the Republican Party in general, but to the specific sponsors of the worst of these voter suppression bills. They've given millions of dollars to these-- to these legislators over the past few years.

And they've not yet made a commitment that they won't continue to give funding to these sponsors of voter suppression. And so they're actually complicit in the situation that we felt-- that we find ourselves in. So we're asking them, we're demanding that they take action, that they take a stand squarely with the voters of Georgia.

But in all the statements that they've released, including coming from the chamber of commerce, the Atlanta as well as the state chamber of commerce, they've taken lukewarm positions. They've taken-- they've played both sideism. They've-- actually, in many of their statements, they've reinforced the big lie that something is needed to make Georgia's elections more secure.

Once you say that, then you're basically accepting Trump's big lie that there was some kind of insecurity or fraud in these election. So we are running a pressure campaign to get these companies-- we're telling them that it won't be business as usual until they take a stand openly and directly and use the full force of their economic and political influence in order to kill these bills.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right, well, Cliff Albright. Cliff, thank you very much for sharing your perspective with us. Really appreciate it.