Voting Rights Groups Skipping Biden’s Speech in Georgia Over Inaction

When President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris deliver major speeches on voting rights on Tuesday in Atlanta, there will be notable absences in the crowd.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor and one of the nation’s best known voting-rights advocates, will not be there. Nor will a coalition of Georgia’s most active voting-rights groups.

Ms. Abrams has a scheduling conflict, an aide said on Monday. She expressed support for the event on Twitter.

But several leading voting rights and civil rights groups are pointedly skipping the speech, protesting what they denounced as months of frustrating inaction by the White House — which they said showed that Mr. Biden did not view Republican attacks on voting rights with sufficient urgency.

“We do not need any more speeches, we don’t need any more platitudes,” said James Woodall, former president of the N.A.A.C.P. of Georgia. “We don’t need any more photo ops. We need action, and that actually is in the form of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, as well as the Freedom to Vote Act — and we need that immediately.”

Exasperation among voting rights groups has been building for months, as 19 states passed 34 new laws creating new restrictions on voting. One of the most sweeping new laws was signed in Georgia nearly 10 months ago.

Voting rights groups looked to Mr. Biden, who had pledged to protect the right to vote, for an aggressive response. He delivered a forceful speech last summer in Philadelphia, and assigned the voting rights portfolio to Ms. Harris. But the administration poured its energy into passing Mr. Biden’s economic agenda, including the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the sweeping Build Back Better plan.

The failure to press as hard for voting rights legislation has soured some of those advocates for voting rights on the administration.

The main obstacle to passing voting rights legislation is the Senate, where a few Democratic senators remain opposed to modifying rules regarding the filibuster. But voting rights groups have lost patience with the White House for refraining to single out Senator Joe Manchin III or Senator Kyrsten Sinema for their opposition to changing the filibuster rules.

And the dangers of inaction, some advocates say, extend beyond voting rights, as legislation in several states has shifted authority over election administration to partisan officeholders.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer, you don’t wait a year to start treatment,” said Ian Bassin, executive director of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan group dedicated to resisting authoritarianism. “The White House and Senate are starting to act with greater urgency, and there’s still time, but the president better be bringing a plan for chemo and radiation to Atlanta, because time is running out.”