U.S. Senate Democrats push voting rights bills, lambast Georgia election law

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar called Georgia ground zero for restrictive voting laws during a Monday voting law hearing in Atlanta. (Photo: Stanley Dunlap)

If the rules in Georgia’s controversial 2021 voting overhaul were in place before last November’s historic U.S. Senate races were pushed to Jan. 5 runoffs, then 76,000 residents who cast their ballots would’ve been unable to register in time for the second round.

A U.S. Senate committee gathered in downtown Atlanta Monday to hear how shortened runoff timeframes, tighter absentee ballot deadlines, and new state powers over local election officials are cause for Congress to expand voting protections through pending federal legislation.

The chair of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, said it’s not a coincidence that the sweeping Republican legislation requires runoffs to be held 28 days after an election when state law mandates that voters are registered at least 29 days before the Election Day.

On Jan. 5, Georgia voters handed Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock a pair of historic victories over Republican incumbent, giving Democrats control of the federal government.

Georgia is now ground zero in the battle over access to the ballot box for Democrats and civil rights activists who say they’re fighting against voter suppression tactics that will disproportionately affect Black and other minority voters.

“It is no coincidence that this assault on the freedom to vote is happening just after the 2020 election, when nearly 160 million Americans cast a ballot — more than ever before in the middle of a pandemic, in an election the Trump Department of Homeland Security declared the most secure in history,” Klobuchar said during the first field hearing hosted by the committee in 20 years.

Republican-controlled legislatures across the country this year are passing restrictive new voting laws, prompting Democratic U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to double his enforcement staff to protect voting rights.

“This year alone, as I noted, hundreds of hundreds of bills have been introduced,” Klobuchar said. “That is why we are here.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), speaks during Monday’s hearing. (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The hearing at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights was held two days after the first anniversary of the death of the civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, the namesake for a voting law  stalled in the Senate that would restore a pre-clearance formula set by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Senate panel and witnesses that included Warnock, Ossoff, state legislators and others also called for the Senate to move forward with the “For the People Act.”

The path for passing federal voting rights legislation is steep, as the 50 Senate Republicans are showing solidarity against both bills. Without GOP support, the bills will need to reach the unlikely 60-vote threshold required to end a filibuster and advance to the desk of President Joe Biden for his signature.

Warnock said his top priority this year is for federal intervention after lawmakers in 48 states introduced nearly 400 bills restricting voting laws.

“We have no time to spare; there’s nothing more important for us to do in Congress,” he said.

Republican supporters of Georgia’s election overhaul argue that the legislation improves the security of the absentee voting system. Some Georgians would get more voting options, including a mandated extra weekend voting day and more public notice on polling location changes.

Witnesses testified Monday that allowing fewer days to receive and return absentee ballots, limiting the number of drop boxes and requiring ID to receive an absentee  ballot will result in longer lines in places where most voters are Black. Read more