Rev. Raphel Warnock, the Democrat nominee running against GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler in Georgia, compared the use of “cash bail” in the criminal justice system to “voter suppression.”
Warnock, who is running in an election that could ultimately determine which party controls the United States Senate, made the comments during a symposium on criminal justice at Harvard University in November 2019. During the event, in particular, the reverend was asked by a member of the audience about his views on states, most notably Florida, preventing felons from voting until they have paid all the fines and fees associated with their incarceration.
“In America, we have noisy, rambunctious arguments in the democratic space,” Warnock said in response to the question. “About guns and butter, about what to fund, about public policy, and those arguments should be noisy … so we can have a nonviolent democratic process.”
“What we’ve witnessed over the last few years is an attack on democracy itself,” Warnock said. “And the carceral system is a tool in that arsenal.”
Warnock proceeded to float the idea that “churches and mosques and temples” could consider paying such fees to ensure formerly incarcerated individuals could take part in the elections process.
“Us simply paying the beast for what shouldn’t be the case in the first place is not the answer,” the reverend said. “We ought to push back, and if we did some payment, it would be to draw attention to the issue.”
“Sort of like we’re bailing people out of jail, but our ultimate goal is to get rid of cash bail,” Warnock added. “It’s a poll tax; it’s voter suppression. Our democracy is being hijacked and we have to take it back.”
Warnock’s past comments came back into the spotlight as the dual Georgia senate runoffs have captured the attention of most political observers. The outcomes of Warnock’s challenge to Loeffler, as well as Sen. David Perdue’s (R-GA) reelection race against Democrat Jon Ossoff, are likely to determine which party controls the Senate in January.
Currently, Republicans hold 50 seats within the chamber, compared to 48 for the Democrats. If, both Warnock and Ossoff were to win their respective contests the chamber would be tied, with the vice president likely being the deciding vote on organizational issues.
Given that most media have called the 2020 White House race in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden, the tie-breaking vote is likely to be cast by his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). As such, Democrats would have operational control of the Senate, making it easier for Biden to push his legislative agenda into law.