Senate Holds Field Hearing To Build Momentum To Pass Voting Access Legislation

A sign with John Lewis's picture on it saying "We must protect our right to vote" is held above the heads of a crowd standing in front of some trees
Faith leaders and protesters attend a rally against the state's new voting restrictions outside the Georgia State Capitol, in Atlanta, Georgia, June 8, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage

On July 19, 2021, the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration held a Senate field hearing in Atlanta, Georgia to build momentum to pass federal legislation that would enact national baseline standards for voting access. This was the committee’s first field hearing in 20 years, underscoring the importance of protecting Americans’ freedom to vote.

At the hearing, the senators on the committee heard from a diverse array of community voices, including U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Sally Harrell, a Georgia state senator, Helen Butler, the executive director of Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, and José Sagarra, a Georgian who has seen how long lines can be a deliberate and unnecessary barrier to voting.

The committee decided to hold the hearing in Georgia because turnout has increased dramatically in the state in recent years and because earlier this year, state legislators enacted a sweeping election law, S.B. 202, restricting people’s right to vote.

Among other things, the witnesses emphasized how S.B. 202 reduces drop box access and limits the ability to hand out food and water to voters standing in line.

Georgia’s state legislature is hardly alone in working to scale back people’s freedom to vote. In response to the election lies spread by former President Donald Trump about the 2020 elections, as of June 2021, 17 states had enacted 28 laws that decrease voting access, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has been combatting the anti-voter bills states have recently been implemented to make the promise of democracy more real for us all and ensure that our government is responsive to voters.

In April, CLC sued Georgia’s secretary of state for violating two nonpartisan nonprofits’ First Amendment right to political speech by barring them from sending out vote-by-mail ballot applications unless voters’ specifically requested them. In June, CLC filed a similar lawsuit in Kansas.

However, our country still needs legislation at the federal level to blunt the effects of states’ anti-voter laws and reaffirm that Americans have a right to make their voices heard in our democracy.

The For the People Act—a bill that the U.S. House of Representatives has passed, which is now before the U.S. Senate—would create national baseline standards for access to voting like promoting voter registration, giving every voter the choice to vote by mail, and implementing early voting and automatic voter registration nationwide.

The bill enjoys strong support from Americans across the political spectrum, including 74% of Republican voters and 73% of Independents.

Meanwhile, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would prevent future attempts to erect discriminatory barriers to the freedom to vote.

It would draw upon the original Voting Rights Act (VRA) to require cities and states with histories of implementing such policies to receive approval from the federal government before enacting new voting laws, a process known as preclearance.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the committee responsible for organizing the hearing, has voiced a commitment to introducing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the fall.

Due to VRA’s success, it was reauthorized and amended five times since its original passage with large, bipartisan majorities. The most recent time was in 2006 when it passed the Senate 98-0 without a single dissenting vote and was signed into law by former President George W. Bush.

We must use the tools at our disposal now to protect Americans’ right to vote. It’s time to enact national standards for voting to ensure all of us have a say in the important decisions that affect our lives. Together, we can ensure Americans can safely and freely cast our ballots so that every voice is heard and our elections reflect the will of the people. 

Georgia is a Communications Assistant at CLC.
What All Does the For the People Act Do?