Senate Democrats renewed their call for a national extension of voting rights Tuesday, calling on leaders from the battlefield state of Georgia to support a public case for congressional intervention to lower state electoral barriers.

At a heated hearing on Capitol Hill, Senators interviewed elected officials, academics and lawyers about the state’s new electoral law and dozens of others, how it had been introduced in Republican state houses since the 2020 elections and would restrict access to ballot papers. Her main witness was Stacey Abrams, the Georgia suffrage activist who arguably did more than any other Democrat to formulate her party’s views on electoral issues.

After more than four hours of testimony, Ms. Abrams argued that Republican-led states like hers were witnessing a “resurgence of Jim Crow-style election suppression” targeting colored voters across the country. She accused Republicans of using “racial animus” to turn the electorate in their favor after former President Donald J. Trump lost Georgia, and unprovoked allegations that he was the victim of electoral fraud.

She warned that decades of profits could be withdrawn if Congress does not intervene.

“If basic suffrage is left to the political ambitions and prejudices of state actors who rely on repression to maintain power, federal advocacy is the appropriate means,” said Ms. Abrams.

While the Justice Committee hearing was not specifically bound by law, it was part of a push by the Democrats to use their influence in Washington to advance two key voting bills that could counter hundreds of restrictive proposals in the states.

The first is a giant overhaul of the national elections, known as HR 1, which would, among other things, force states to expand early voting and postal voting, mandate automatic voter registration, and neutralize restrictive voter identification laws.

The second bill, named after civil rights icon John Lewis, would restore a key enforcement provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that makes it difficult for states to target colored voters. It was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Republicans oppose both bills, but have most directly expressed their anger at the election reorganization, which includes a new public campaign funding system and a reorganization of the federal election commission. On Tuesday, they called it a gross federal breach designed to help Democrats consolidate power, dismissed allegations of racism and renewed vows to defeat it in the evenly-divided Senate.

“HR 1 is not about redressing injustices,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina. “It’s about power.”

As a sign of how polarized the voting debate has become, the two parties even argued over the title of the hearing itself. Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the panel, had it as “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote ”. The Republicans called this historically inaccurate, accusing Democrats – including President Biden – of belittling the stigma of violent racial repression by comparing it to current electoral laws.

“It is disgusting and insulting to compare the actual oppression and violence of voters in this time we grew up with a state law that only requires people to show their ID,” said Republican MP Burgess Owens Utah, adding that he “actually” experienced the Jim Crow Laws as a child in the south. “

Mr Durbin acknowledged that Jim Crow “was more violent at worst than the situation we are facing today”. But he insisted the goal was the same.

“The fundamental question that we are dealing with in this hearing is whether there is an intent or intent in law in many states, including Georgia, to limit or restrict minority voting rights,” said Mr. Durbin. “I think that goes without saying.”

The unified Republican opposition presents certain difficulties for any major federal voting legislation. The Democrats would have to convince all 50 of their Senators to vote for the bill and create a spin-off in Senate rules to pass it by a simple majority, relying on Vice President Kamala Harris’ tied vote. But for now, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, has opposed this approach and called for bipartisan negotiations.

The attempts by the Democrats to renew the voting rights law appear to be just as steep. Republicans no longer feel the need to re-establish the tarnished provision that required federal approval of changes to the electoral process in parts of the country with history of discrimination.

Without it, the advocates of voting rights say they saw restrictive state electoral laws like Georgia’s proliferation and spent years trying in court to overturn laws that violate the Constitution.

“Litigation is a blunt tool,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “What the pre-clearance gave us was to forestall voter discrimination before it happened.”

Republicans have repeatedly turned to their own witnesses to back up proposals from Democrats, including Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s long-time electoral officer and Democrat. Mr. Gardner argued that his party’s attempt at overtaking would backfire.

“Why should we be made to be like California or other states?” Said Mr. Gardner. “We have a method that works for the people of New Hampshire. The turnout is proof that it works, and this kind of federal legislation harms our voting behavior. “

Jan Jones, Georgia House’s pro tempore Republican spokesman, vigorously defended her state’s new electoral law, saying that Republicans only “make voting easier and make cheating harder.”

She said a provision banning third parties from providing food and water to voters in line is not a draconian tactic to stifle voter turnout, but an attempt to discourage activists and candidates from giving food and drink use other goodies to influence voters.

An analysis by the New York Times identified 16 provisions in Georgia law that either hinder people’s choice or shift power to the Republican-controlled legislature.

Republican senators also seemed eager to question Ms. Abrams directly, a Democratic star who may run for governor of Georgia again next year. Mr. Graham and Senator John Cornyn of Texas showered them with questions attempting to make their claims about voter identification laws contradictory and their condemnation of Georgia’s statute hypocritical.

“So the voter card is sometimes racist and sometimes not racist?” Asked Mr. Cornyn in a long conversation.

“Intent is always important, sir, and that is the point of this conversation,” replied Ms. Abrams, saying that she supports some voter identification laws. “That’s the point of the Jim Crow narrative. That Jim Crow didn’t just look at the activity, but at the intent. “

Polls show that the public generally supports such laws, but advocates of voting rights argue that it can make voting difficult for some people of color.

Mr. Cornyn kept rephrasing the question. Mrs. Abrams pushed back.

“Senator, I am happy to answer your questions, but if you misrepresent my answers, it is inappropriate,” she said.

Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton blamed Ms. Abrams for Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star game from Georgia this summer, and said her public criticism of the voting bill was “central to it.” played a decision that cost their state economically.

Ms. Abrams vehemently disagreed, saying she spoke out against the league’s move but would stand by anyone who defends the right to vote.

“For me, a day of games is not worth losing our democracy,” she said.