ATLANTA – Senate Democrats on Monday embarked on their faltering push for federal voting law en route to Georgia to vote for a congressional overhaul from a state at the center of a national battle with Republicans for access to the To vote on ballot papers.
At an on-site hearing at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights here, state lawmakers and voters warned the Senate Rules Committee that the state’s restrictive, newly enacted electoral law was slowly undoing decades of hard-won progress. They saw the move as a deliberate attempt by the Republicans to incapacitate black voters, wreak havoc at the ballot box and cement their weak hold in power, and called for Congress to intervene.
“There’s a lot of talk about not being able to give voters food and water online, but the actual law is far more hideous than that,” said Billy Mitchell, President of the Georgia House of Representatives, Democratic Caucus chairman of the board. “What worries me most – and I hope you can find a solution to it – is cheating on arbitrators who create these laws.”
Senate Democrats said they were hopeful that the change of scenery would give a new impetus to their campaign to pass a bill that would introduce a nationwide floor on access to voting, effectively undoing many of the changes adopted in Georgia and several other changes states are made. But there was little evidence that it would, as Republicans blocked this legislation and lacked the support to break the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster.
Despite huddled with Texas state lawmakers at the Capitol last week, on Monday they first tried to shed a light on the spot on one of more than a dozen states that have adopted voting restrictions.
“If you just stay in Washington and are doused and stalled by our archaic Senate trials, you lose sight of what you are fighting for,” said Minnesota Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar, who chaired the hearing.
Still, it seemed unlikely that the session would have a significant impact on the legislative debate in Washington, 500 miles away, where Republicans dismissed and boycotted the hearing as a feat.
A first attempt by the Democrats to debate their revision, the For the People Act, failed in the Senate last month in the face of united Republican opposition. Legislation would have required automatic voter registration and early and unexcused mail-in voting across the country; ended the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts; and place new demands on Super PACs to reveal their large donors.
Now the Democrats are trying to retool. There is a lot at stake. As Republican states advance with new laws, the Democrats have been unable to bypass the Republican opposition in the Senate or deliver on promises of success. Suffrage activists are becoming increasingly impatient for progress, warning that if Congress fails to act by early autumn, it may be too late to put the changes into effect before the 2022 elections.
The party leaders work with Senator Joe Manchin III. West Virginia, the fiercest Democratic opponent of the measure, is working on a closer draft compromise that could be re-voted in August or fall.
They are also preparing additional laws named after Georgia civil rights icon, John Lewis, to bolster the 1965 Suffrage Act through federal grants. This approach would allow Democrats to bypass Republican objections with specific budgetary rules, but it would not allow Congress to actually tell states to take action.
But the real struggle is to convince Mr. Manchin and a handful of other objectors to support changes to the filibuster so that the Democrats can postpone voting rights despite Republican objections.
“I’m doing all I can,” said South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn, the No. 3 Democrat and the senior black lawmaker in Congress.
In an interview, Mr Clyburn said he had made clear his views on the need for a filibuster carve to the White House and had another “long talk” with Mr Manchin last week about West Virginians’ concerns about unilateral action – with no luck.
“Joe Manchin is really trying to find a place to keep the filibuster’s integrity where I’m not with him,” Clyburn said in an interview. “I know the history of the filibuster; I intend not to ignore the story. It was primarily – almost exclusively – used to deny civil rights such as voting. “
Democrats, he added, “could throw us as a party to the dustbin of history” if they do not take action on the matter during this Congress.
In Atlanta, the Georgia Democrats issued similarly dire warnings on Monday.
Helen Butler testified in front of black and white photos of the civil rights movement, telling Senators how she and another black Morgan County electoral officer were removed from the county electoral committee earlier this month under a new law giving Republicans the power to appoint their members.
The changes, she said, “raised the specter that the goal would be to cancel the legitimate vote of Georgian voters if the majority party is not satisfied with the outcome of the election, in order to achieve a result that the former president will not in 2020 could achieve. “
Georgia law, passed in April, introduced new ID requirements for postal ballot papers, limited the number of mailboxes that voters could drop them in, banned third parties from giving food or water to voters waiting in line, and allowed the Republican-led legislature effectively new power to override state and county electoral officials and influence the outcome of an election.
Later, Ms. Butler, who has helped Black Georgians vote for decades as director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, said she was concerned about how colored voters would deal with a jumble of new rules and requirements.
“You may be able to overcome the hurdles, but my God, what barriers do you have to overcome?” She said.
José Segarra, a former Air Force pilot from rural Houston County, told Senators that he did just that in 2020 and stood in line for so long that some voters simply had to leave to go to work or to look around Taking care of children before they have a chance to cast a vote.
“After standing outside for an hour and a half, we finally made it inside – only to find out that the line in the building was just as long,” Segarra said. “Senators, this is wrong. It shouldn’t take that long to vote. “
Republicans on the rules committee did not invite members of their party to defend the law and called the hearing a dishonest ploy.
“This silly stunt is based on the same lie as the Democrats’ false hysteria from Georgia to Texas to Washington, DC and beyond – their efforts to pretend that moderate, state electoral laws have more generous early voting rules than blue states like” New York is sort of a nasty assault on our democracy, “Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and minority leader said in a statement.
in the a video posted on his Twitter account shortly after the hearing closed, Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, defended his state’s new electoral law as “common sense reform”. He accused the Democrats of “conducting fake hearings to try to demonize election integrity laws” and raising money.
The Justice Department sued the state last month over the law, which the Biden government believes unlawfully discriminates against black voters.