ATLANTA — Cory Booker is detailing a proposed overhaul of how Americans vote, bringing a message that intersects voting rights and reproductive justice to a place with deep resonance for his campaign's message of moral courage.
Booker, who teased the pursuit of a “new Voting Rights Act” in his official kickoff speech last weekend in Newark, connected voting rights to reproductive justice in an address in front of a group of students here Wednesday afternoon, on the heels of the Georgia legislature’s passage of a "heartbeat bill," which bans most abortions when a doctor can detect a heartbeat. Opponents say that the bill is too restrictive and that a doctor can often detect a heartbeat before a woman realizes that she's pregnant. Similar legislation was also recently passed in Ohio.
Booker’s campaign told BuzzFeed News his new voting rights proposal would protect the right to vote, including by reversing the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision that narrowed the scope of the current Voting Rights Act, and make it easier to vote with provisions for automatic voter registration and expanded voting access.
His campaign said Booker plans to propose that as president he’ll end gerrymandering; stop voter suppression efforts, such as purging voters from the rolls; expand vote-by-mail, early voting, and same-day and online voter registration; make Election Day a national holiday; rid the election system of language barriers; and give US citizens returning from incarceration the right to vote. A spokesperson for his campaign said Booker will continue to link the movements together in an effort to find a common purpose.
"For years, the right to vote for millions of Americans — disproportionately in communities of color — has been under assault," Booker said in a statement. “It is time for a new Voting Rights Act to finally put an end to systematic attempts to limit access to the ballot box and strip citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. During my presidency, we will fight to protect and expand every American's right to take part in our democracy."
The location for the message's delivery Wednesday has a deep meaning for Booker’s campaign. Georgia, and Atlanta specifically, became known as the cradle of the civil rights movement because of the presence of moral leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young, whose work created the path for Maynard Jackson, the first black mayor of Atlanta who transformed the city into a bastion of economic progress for black people. Last year, Georgia nearly elected Stacey Abrams, who would have been the first black woman governor in the history of the country.
Booker has long viewed his career in politics as an extension of the movement. He rose to national political prominence as Newark’s mayor in the 2000s, casting himself as a unifying symbol and fresh face who would help to rebuild his city through coalitions and proximity to its working poor.
Booker has an opportunity to make an impact in Georgia after Democrats’ difficult election contest here last year, which has made some people lose faith in their democracy. But Booker is also willing to speak to conservative voters who make up a significant part of the electorate, said Christopher McCullough, a student at Morehouse College.
And while there’s ample evidence in Georgia of moral leaders’ capacity to effect change and expand equality, political leaders like Booker have to apply the Jacksonian example of articulating how issues related to ballot, education, and the economy are interwoven in order to be successful, said Roland Martin, a political analyst and host of the daily digital news show Roland Martin Unfiltered.
While in Atlanta, Booker is rumored to make a visit Slutty Vegan, the viral black-owned food-world phenomenon founded by Pinky Cole, an Atlanta-based entrepreneur. Slutty Vegan is seemingly on the verge of becoming impossibly popular, and Booker’s intention signals his campaign’s understanding they are an analogous pair: Both Booker and Cole are native to social media; he is, of course, a vegan, and loves french fries. Cole told BuzzFeed News that her success is owing to Maynard Jackson’s determination to use politics as a means to empower black people is what inspires her philanthropy.
“I am the representative of the new age entrepreneurial space,” Cole told BuzzFeed News. “At this level of leadership every move I make is watched. It’s important because not often do women who look like me get these opportunities, so the decisions and moves I make have to be intentional on all accounts. Fortunately or unfortunately, I am looked to as the representation of black business, and my successes and my failures are more than my own.”