U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, left, D-Minn., swears in witnesses during a Senate Rules Committee field hearing
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, Monday, July 19, 2021. (Ben Gray/AP)

ATLANTA — Record-breaking turnout in the 2020 election should have been celebrated. Instead, it has led to serious efforts to reduce turnout in future elections, the Senate Rules Committee was told during its first hearing outside of Washington in 20 years.  

The Rules Committee, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, heard about Georgia’s new election law on July 20 from Georgia’s newly elected U.S. senators, both Democrats, as well as a string of other mostly Democratic witnesses. 

“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,” said Klobuchar in her opening statement.

Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock said the state’s new election law is a Republican response to his election and that of fellow Democrat Sen. Jon Ossoff in the 2020 November runoffs.

“We saw record-breaking voter turnout in our last elections,” Warnock said. “What we did in Georgia in terms of turnout should have been celebrated by everyone regardless of political party, but instead, it was attacked by craven politicians who are more committed to the maintenance of their own power than they are to the strengthening and maintenance of our democracy.” 

State House Minority Caucus Chairman Billy Mitchell added that after the exemplary election participation seen in the 2020 election season, the intentions of the new voting laws are questionable.

“After the most successful election — and I define its success, not by our candidates winning their elections, but by the fact that when you have as many people vote as we did in the 2020 election cycle, with a few problems, with all challenges being dismissed — you have to consider that to be successful,” said the Democrat from Stone Mountain. “For those who are amending election laws in states, where they can, you really don’t have to wonder what their true intent is.” 

Democrats argued that there are several ways that Georgia’s new election law could negatively affect voters. It limits absentee ballot boxes and hours for early voting, places restrictions on community organizers by prohibiting them from aiding voters by passing out ballots and food,  and allows the state elections board to take control of local elections even while votes are being counted.

State Sen. Sally Harrell, a Democrat from Atlanta, said she has never seen anything like the way the election laws were handled in her nine years of serving in the General Assembly. She said the Senate didn’t get a real chance to debate SB202  because the bulk of it was added by the House to a two-page bill that had already passed the Senate, so when it came back to the Senate, it did not go to committee and all the Senate was allowed to do was vote yes or no.

“I have never seen such blatant disregard for the legislative process as I did with the passage of S.B. 202,” said Harrell. 

The hearing also included witnesses to spotlight how the most recent voting laws could impact the freedom to vote. José Segarra, an engineer at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, said he tried to vote during the early, in-person voting phase of the November 2020 presidential elections and the January 2021 Senate runoff elections. 

He said he waited over three hours in line during the early voting period in October for the general elections. He said he watched an elderly couple leave the line because they could not withstand the long waiting period, so they were forced to vote by mail. He said one of his wife’s co-workers had to make arrangements for her child to be picked up from daycare while she continued to wait in line. 

“Our government needs to ensure that we have adequate systems and processes in place to allow every eligible voter to cast their ballot without such undue burden … not just those of us who can take three hours off from work to stand in line, and so that nobody has to choose between a paycheck and exercising a much sacred constitutional right,” said Segarra.

Klobuchar concluded the hearing by saying that every voter will be affected by these newly enacted laws. 

“The devil is in the details in these bills; if you are looking for the evil, you will find it pretty easily,” Klobuchar said. “I don’t care if you are white or black, if you are in a rural area, you’re suburban or urban, these rules hurt you. They hurt people. They hurt working people that are trying to vote.”

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