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Senators Take Field Trip to Atlanta for Hearing on Voting Rights

“We Americans live in a house that democracy built, and right now that house is on fire,” Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock said at a Senate committee’s first field hearing in 20 years.

ATLANTA (CN) — As part of a continued effort to make the case for an overhaul of federal election laws, the Senate Rules Committee held its first field hearing in two decades in Atlanta Monday to hear testimony on the impact of Georgia’s new voting restrictions.

The hearing at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights gathered Georgia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, state lawmakers and voting rights advocates who all held up Senate Bill 202, the Peach State’s controversial new voting law, as an example of the type of legislation that should be overridden by a new federal law expanding access to the ballot box.

Signed into law by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in March, SB 202 restricts the time frame for early voting in some elections, adds ID requirements for absentee ballots, bans handing out food and water to voters waiting in line, and allows the state to take over local election boards.

President Joe Biden has called the bill “Jim Crow on steroids.”

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee, echoed that sentiment in her opening remarks Monday.

"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 that the Trump Department of Homeland Security declared the most secure in history," Klobuchar said.

The hearing comes one month after Senate Republicans blocked public debate on the For the People Act, which would create national standards for voting access, change campaign finance laws to shine light on dark money donations and restrict partisan gerrymandering.

The legislation remains paralyzed due to unified Republican opposition and disagreement among Senate Democrats over whether to change procedural rules to advance the measure in the evenly divided chamber.

Klobuchar said Monday that the committee intends to “shine a spotlight on what has been happening in Georgia and in states around the country to undermine the freedom to vote.”

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, left, D-Minn., swears in witnesses during a Senate Rules Committee field hearing on voting rights at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta on Monday. (AP Photo/Ben Gray)

“Over 400 bills have been introduced, 28 have been passed and signed into law, and Exhibit A is the one right here in the state of Georgia. We are here to listen to people in Georgia about the changes to the state’s voting laws -- and we are here to discuss why it is so critical for Congress to enact basic federal standards to ensure that all Americans can cast their ballots,” Klobuchar said.

Georgia is just one of 17 GOP-controlled states that passed new election laws after the November 2020 general election in response to former President Donald Trump’s false allegations of widespread election fraud.

Klobuchar said Monday that Republicans declined to participate in the hearing or provide witnesses.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell likened the hearing to a “partisan circus” in a statement.

“This silly stunt is based on the same lie as all the Democrats’ phony hysteria from Georgia to Texas to Washington D.C. and beyond — their efforts to pretend that moderate, mainstream state voting laws with more generous early-voting provisions than blue states like New York are some kind of evil assault on our democracy,” the Kentucky Republican said.

But U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, a Democrat from Georgia, called his state “ground zero” for GOP-led voter suppression efforts in his testimony as a witness in the hearing.

Calling for immediate federal voting right protections, Warnock urged his fellow lawmakers to take action: “We Americans live in a house that democracy built, and right now that house is on fire.”

“We are in a 911 emergency for our democracy. We are witnessing a shameless, unabashed assault on people’s voting rights. And in the face of all that we’re seeing in Georgia, and across the country, we must pass federal voting rights legislation—no matter what,” Warnock said.

Georgia state Senator Sally Harrell, an Atlanta-area Democrat, also emphasized the need for urgent action in her statement Monday.

“We need your help, we desperately need your help, but there’s no one solution to this problem and it’s not a static thing where you’re going to be able to pass one bill and solve it all because the methods keep changing,” Harrell said. “So stay with us, we need to keep feeding you this info so that Congress can constantly help ensure that where you live doesn’t determine if your vote counts.”

Kemp dismissed Monday’s hearing as “only the latest in a long line of publicity stunts by Democrats to distract from their failures in Washington and attack secure elections in Georgia."

“Georgians know the truth and we won’t apologize for supporting common sense reforms to secure the ballot box,” the Republican governor said in a video statement, adding that SB 202 “restores confidence in Georgia’s election systems and protects every citizen’s constitutional rights.”

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Categories / Government, National, Politics

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