Jul 19, 2021
Senate Voting Rights Hearing Transcript Atlanta, GA July 19
The Senate held a remote hearing on voting rights in Atlanta, Georgia on July 19, 2021. Read the full transcript of the congressional hearing here.
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Sen. Klobuchar: (00:04)
Good morning. It is my honor to call to order this hearing of the United States Senate Committee on rules and administration. The first field hearing that the Senate rules committee has held in over 20 years. And I can’t actually think of a better place to hold it, that in this beautiful, beautiful museum.
Sen. Klobuchar: (00:26)
We’re here today in Atlanta to shine a spotlight on what has been happening in Georgia and the states around the country to undermine the freedom to vote. Over 400 bills have been introduced. 28 have passed and been signed into law. And then 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.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:02)
I would like to thank my colleagues who are in attendance. Of course, Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock. I got the privilege to attend Ebeneezer with him yesterday and also Senator Ossoff, who of course was also recently elected as a leader on this committee. And of course… Okay. All right. We’ll cheer for both Georgia senators right now.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:29)
Thank you. And also with us today is Senator Merkley from the state of Oregon, who is the lead author of the, For the People Act. And last but not least, Senator Padilla, who many of you know is the Secretary of State of California, incredibly knowledgeable in the area of voting rights and took a red eye to get here today. So that is a long way from California. I’d also like to welcome the following leaders from the state of Georgia who are here with us today, Georgia Rep Billy Mitchell, who will also give a statement who is the chair of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and the President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, Chair of the Georgia Black Caucus of State Legislators, Senator Tanya Anderson, who I had the privilege to talk to yesterday, Representative Debra Bazemore who’s with us as well. Representative Rhonda Burnough, Representative Sandra Scott and former Representative Cleo Washington.
Sen. Klobuchar: (02:38)
In addition, I want to welcome our witnesses, Senator Sally Harrell, right here, she wore the right color, matching with me. Ms. Helen Butler, well-known to the community and Mr. Jose [Segarra 00:29:03], who I will introduce shortly. I want to thank Senator Blunt staff who are here with us as well. The location of today’s hearing, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a powerful reminder of how our country has long fought against the forces of injustice and that it has only been through the power of citizens standing up to the forces of oppression through speaking truth to power, the change has occurred.
Sen. Klobuchar: (03:19)
This morning, we had the opportunity to tour where the exhibits and anyone watching today, I really urge you to come to this museum in Atlanta and tour this museum. You literally can sit at the lunch counter where the freedom fighters sat, and have headphones on and picture yourself in that position. And how long can you sit there? How long can you tolerate it? There’s another exhibit honoring Georgia’s own hero, Representative John Lewis, who passed away just over one year ago, who never gave up on justice, never stopped marching toward freedom.
Sen. Klobuchar: (03:58)
I have always been in awe of Congressman John Lewis, of his persistent, his resilience, his faith that the country could be better if only we put in the work. His faith in our country led him to coordinate efforts for the Mississippi Freedom Summer recruiting college students from around the country to join the movement, to register black voters in the South. And it took him to Selma where he helped lead 600 marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that dark day, that became known as Bloody Sunday. The horrific events of that day shocked the nation with marchers attacked with Bowie clubs and tear gas. Congressman Lewis’ skull was fractured. He bore the scars until the very end of his life.
Sen. Klobuchar: (04:42)
Soon after, President Lyndon Johnson came to the Capitol, and as he said, with the outrage of Selma, still fresh called on Congress to take action to guarantee the right to vote. Months later, with the help of former Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. I was fortunate, like every single senator up here at points in my life to visit that bridge. And one in particular stands out for me. It was actually at the 48th anniversary, that weekend after 48 years, the white police chief of Montgomery handed his badge to Congressman Lewis and apologized for not protecting him and the freedom marchers. 48 years is a long time for an apology. And it only happened because Congressman Lewis never quit fighting for progress, for civil rights, for economic justice. But now, over five decades since that day in Selma and since the Voting Rights Act became the law of the land, so much of the progress that Americans have fought for, that are documented in this museum, that Americans have died for, is at stake.
Sen. Klobuchar: (05:51)
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 about 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. This year alone, as I noted, hundreds and hundreds of bills have been introduced. That is why we are here. We are here in one of the states today where legislation was signed into law by Georgia’s governor in March. The new Georgia law, not only limits the number and availability of valid drop boxes and puts limits on the hours of early voting, it also strips power away from local election officials and ultimately puts it in the hands of the state legislature. Something that Reverend Senator Warnock has introduced a bill to change.
Sen. Klobuchar: (06:46)
This new law also reduces the time for runoff elections from 9 weeks to 28 days. And since Georgia law requires voters to be registered for at least 29 days before the election day, this means that previously unregistered voters won’t be able to make their voices heard in the runoff. Do you think it’s a coincidence that it’s 28 days for the runoff and then 29 days when you register? It’s not one bit of coincidence. It is a blatant exercise of raw power. It also limits early voting for runoffs to one week, Monday through Friday, so you can’t vote on weekends, allows a single person to challenge the registration of an unlimited number of voters and makes it a crime for volunteers to give food and water on a nonpartisan basis to people in line. With similar bills now being considered in state legislatures across America are signed into law already. This is a coordinated effort to limit Americans’ freedom to vote.
Sen. Klobuchar: (07:50)
Our constitution in Article One, Section Four, has equipped us to do exactly what we should do. That provision makes clear that Congress has the power to make or alter laws governing federal elections at any time. It is as clear as day. We must meet this moment. As President Biden said in Philadelphia last week, “This is the test of our time.” That is why we are here to hear firsthand about the attack on voting rights in Georgia. Why we must pass the, For the People Act, which we’re all co-sponsors of which Senator Merkley is the chief sponsor. This would create those basic federal voting rights that are allowed for by our constitution, that were clearly anticipated in our constitution, as well as cut down on the dark money in our politics and do something about ethics reform. With that, it is my honor to introduce our first witness and your Senator, Reverend Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
Sen. Warnock: (08:53)
Well, thank you so very much. I want to say welcome to all of my colleagues, to the great state of Georgia. We are very glad to have you and to welcome you to our state. Thanks so much Chair Klobuchar for inviting me to speak today about the urgent need for federal voting rights legislation. I’m especially grateful that the members of the rules committee have come here to the state of Georgia for its first field hearing in two decades. And we’ll hear from Georgia advocates, many of whom I’ve worked with and alongside across the years like Helen Butler, who have long been on the ground in this fight, and they can speak extensively to the detrimental impacts of voter suppression in Georgia.
Sen. Warnock: (09:46)
Over the last year, Georgia has become ground zero for the sweeping voter suppression efforts we’ve seen gain momentum all across our country. We saw record breaking voter turnout in our last elections. What we did in Georgia, this last election, in terms of turnout should have been celebrated by everyone, regardless of political party. But instead it was attacked by craven politicians who were more committed to the maintenance of their own power than they are to the strengthening and maintaining of our democracy. Spurred by the big lie, these same actors are now busy rolling back voting rights in a way that we have not seen in size and scope since the Jim Crow era. In fact, Georgia became the first of now 19 states in just a few short months to pass laws that restrict voter turnout in the wake of the November, 2020 election.
Sen. Warnock: (11:08)
My home state exemplifies the effectiveness of these suppression efforts, as well as the power and the opportunity of what federal voting rights legislation can accomplish. Your vote is your voice. Your voice is about your human dignity. To fight for voting rights is to fight for human rights. There’s nothing more noble, more important for us to do in a moment like this. Sadly, what we’re seeing in Georgia is an attempt to deny certain people the ability to have their voices heard in our democracy. I’ve said time and time again, some people don’t want some people to vote. So they’re trying to deny access to the ballot, to set up hurdles that voters have to cross as if voting is a privilege and not a right.
Sen. Warnock: (12:14)
So this new law in Georgia SB 202 would make voting harder for countless Georgians by creating these hurdles that voters have to jump through in order to request an absentee ballot while also reducing the number of drop boxes where voters can return their ballots, by making it harder for community organizations to assist voters, whether from requesting a ballot to just handing out a bottle of water. By letting a single person make unlimited mass challenges to the ability of other Georgians to vote, clearing the way for baseless accusations. Imagine that. Your neighbor being able to challenge countless numbers of other citizens and their right to vote. And then even if you clear all of those hurdles, even if you are registered to vote and you got your ballot in the door, your ballot still might not be counted because this new law also allows partisan officials in the state legislature to control our state board of elections and take over local elections. And it allows them to engage in these takeovers even while the votes are still being cast.
Sen. Warnock: (13:36)
This is a recipe, not only for voter suppression, but for chaos in our democracy. But if we pass federal voting rights protections, which the Congress has the ability and the constitutional right to do, we can reverse these restrictions. We can provide a baseline for voting, basic standards that apply no matter what state you live in. We can pass legislation that would create uniform national standards so that your right to vote cannot be challenged. We can protect the freedom of voters to decide how they want to vote. Whether it’s on election day, during early voting, or by mail. We can strengthen the election security by providing new funding for states to replace old voting machines and enhanced training for election administrators.
Sen. Warnock: (14:35)
And so along with Chair Klobuchar, as well as our colleagues and senators Merkley, Warner, and Georgia Senator John Ossoff, I’ve also introduced the Preventing Elections Subversion Act. This legislation would address some of the specific challenges we are seeing in Georgia by stopping mass challenges against voters and preventing state takeovers of local election boards. I want to be clear. Congress must take action on voting rights and we have no time to spare. There is nothing more important for us to do this Congress. Since January, nearly 400 bills that would restrict voting have been introduced in 48 states. They’ve passed in 19 states. And as we speak, the Texas Legislature is trying to become the next state.
Sen. Warnock: (15:35)
We Americans live in a great house that democracy built. Right now, that house is on fire. What good is it to expand the foundation if the house is on fire? And so we have to have national standards that push against what we’re seeing in Texas and Georgia and all across our country. And while our brave brothers and sisters in the Texas Legislature have risked so much to stop this effort, I am disappointed that some members of the United States Senate could not even bring themselves to open up debate on this critical issue. That’s what went down the other day in the Senate, not the bill, but the ability to have a debate on the maintenance of our democracy.
Sen. Warnock: (16:29)
I submit that voting is not just an issue alongside other issues. I believe that democracy is the political enactment of a spiritual idea. This notion that all of us have within our sacred worth and thus, the right to determine, to help determine, the direction of our country and our destiny within it. Voting rights provides the framework in which all of the other debates about issues impacting our lives takes place, infrastructure, climate change, healthcare, you name it, all critical issues, but democracy is the framework. So Congress must act. Congress has a unique responsibility to protect voting rights for every eligible American.
Sen. Warnock: (17:15)
To put it plainly, we’re only able to work on these issues because someone voted to send us to Washington and woe on us, shame on us. If the people send us to Washington to stand up for them, and we won’t stand up for their voices in their own democracy. I want to be clear. We’re only in the beginning of this stretch. Our fight is only begun. I’m going to keep working in earnest with my senate colleagues to pass voting rights legislation and to do it, this Congress.
Sen. Warnock: (17:58)
As I conclude my remarks, I can’t help but reflect on the fact that we are in the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and I think that Congressman John Lewis, whom I knew personally, he was my parishioner. I was the pastor but he clearly was the mentor. As I was preparing to preside over his funeral, I asked myself, what was he thinking about as he cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I assure you, he wasn’t thinking about winning a presidential medal for you. He wanted to win voting rights for every citizen, because he was a patriot in the best sense of the word. Sitting in this, he tried to settle on human rights.
Sen. Warnock: (18:43)
I cannot help them reflect on the words of Dr. King, who said in 1957, “Give us the ballot and we will place on the benches in the South, judges who will do justice and love mercy. We will send governors to lead us who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the divine.” This was a sacred moment. This was an inflection point in our country. We are at a 9-1-1 emergency for our democracy. History is watching us and the future is waiting to see if we will act.
Sen. Klobuchar: (19:29)
Thank you. And thanks for being such a patriot. Thank you very much, Senator Warnock. We now have the honor to hearing from Representative Billy Mitchell, who’s here to give testimony today before we begin with our witnesses. As I mentioned, he is the Chair of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus and President of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, a 740 member organization of African American state legislators from across the country. He represents George’s 88th district, which includes parts of Stone Mountain, Tucker, and Lithonia. Thank you for being here, Representative Mitchell.
Rep. Mitchell: (20:12)
Thank you, Chairman Klobuchar, and in absentia, ranking member Blunt and members of the committee. Because I sit here before you today as a member of the largest state legislative black caucus in the nation, give some deference to our chair, Senator Tanya Anderson. Because we were literally in the trenches of this issue, doing whatever we could to combat, and in some cases, prevent it from being worse law, because in large measure, it is the voters that we represent that would be mostly negatively affected by these new laws, because we value this committee’s purpose here today and so appreciate your members, particularly your member and our Senator John Ossoff, and your Senator Raphael Warnock who gave remarks, I want to express my sincere appreciation for this opportunity to come before you.
Rep. Mitchell: (21:11)
And if I may, Madam Chair, I can tell you firsthand that senators Ossoff and Warnock are not only extraordinary public servants, but the kind of people that make you want to take leave from your job to speak all over the state on their behalf, to give and to do all you can to motivate voter participation.
Rep. Mitchell: (21:33)
After the most successful election, and I define its success, not by our candidates winning these elections, but by the fact when you have as many people who voted in the 2020 election cycle with as few problems, with all the challenges being dismissed, you have to consider that to be successful, evidence of a strong democracy. For those who are amending election laws in states where they can, you really don’t have to wonder what their true intent is. Since we’re here in Atlanta, the birth and nurturing place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I’m reminded of what he said decades ago, as Reverend Warnock said, when asked about the voting rights that pertained to African Americans, but he certainly could have been talking about any American when he said, “Some people don’t want some people to vote.” When you had the highest levels of voter participation, combined with the lowest levels of challenges, why would you want to change that?
Rep. Mitchell: (22:37)
And it’s worth noting that the laws we operated under during the last election cycle were put in place by the same majority party that is now trying to tear them down. I could not agree with President Biden more. We are facing the most significant test of our democracy since the civil war of which I’m particularly sensitive about as I represent Stone Mountain, Georgia, which is home to the largest memorial to the Confederacy in the world, for now. But I digress. I heard a member of the US Congress proclaim that their intent was to make certain that these state laws pass so that those states could firmly be in control of the upcoming reapportionment process. A sure Republican control and create more Republican state legislative and congressional districts.
Rep. Mitchell: (23:31)
As president of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, I hosted the Texas House Democratic Caucus for dinner in Washington last week. We compared legislative language as passed in Georgia and proposed in Texas. I suspected that the language would be similar, but discovered that it was mostly identical. Verifying these proposals sweeping the nation are being provided by such groups as the Heritage Foundation and others.
Rep. Mitchell: (24:02)
There’s much talk about not being able to give food or water to voters who are in line, but the actual law is much more important than that. The actual law states and I’m going to read it, “Nor shall any person give or offer to give or participate in giving of any money, gifts, anything of value, including, but not limited to food and drink.” Meaning if a person goes to the polls with their spouse and merely offers them some chewing gum or a magazine to read while in line, that person would be subject to arrest, up to $1000 fine, and up to a year in jail. We all know that the uneven way this would be enforced throughout the state, the equal protection issues, the vagueness of it, make this right for court challenge.
Rep. Mitchell: (24:54)
I believe that dark money, unlimited campaign spending is wrong. And I hope that you will be able to do something about it, but we will compete. I further believe that voter suppression is unfair and it is wrong. Hope you do something about it, but our grandparents and great grands endured far less, far worse. And we will use this to motivate our voters to get out. But what I am most concerned about and hope you come up with a solution for, is cheating umpires that these laws are creating. They are replacing elected officials in states and counties who must concern themselves with the will of the voters, with political appointees whose only concern is the will of the person who appointed them. County election boards throughout the state run our elections. They are changing the laws such that, not only are they no longer required to be non-partisan, but that they don’t like the outcome of an election, they can simply and immediately just take over the election board.
Rep. Mitchell: (25:58)
These political appointees could overturn elections without fear of being held accountable by the voters. For that reason alone, these election laws should concern us all. My former colleague, Stacy Abrams says it best, “Our selections may be partisan, but the operation of our elections should be non partisan.” Lastly, let me say that, at the house of representatives was the final arbiter of this law in Georgia. It came from the Senate, to the House, then to the Governor’s desk for signing within hours. Moving that fast is virtually unprecedented. As chair of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, I was the speaker to the bill before we voted. I was so impressed with Senator Warnock’s maiden speech on the US Senate floor that I texted him to let him know I was going to use some of his words in my closing on the House floor. Being who he is, he sent back a quick prayer as he wished me well.
Rep. Mitchell: (27:02)
I’d like to close with some of those remarks he used. “The designers of our government intended the voters to be able to pick their candidates, not the candidates to pick their voters, lest we have democracy in reverse. The four most important words in the democracy are, the people have spoken. So we must do what we can to let the people speak.” Once again, thank you for the opportunity.
Sen. Klobuchar: (27:30)
Thank you so much. Thank you, Representative. All right. I want to call our witnesses up. I’m going to introduce them and then swear them in. Our first witness on the panel today is… Maybe we’ll change these out while I introduce them. Georgia State Senator Sally Harrell. Since 2019, Senator Harrell has represented Georgia’s 40th Senate district, which includes DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. Senator Harrell serves on five committees, including the Senate Ethics Committee, which has jurisdiction over election and voting issues. Senator Harrell also has served three terms in Georgia’s House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005. She received her bachelor’s degree in social work from Georgia State University and received a master degree from the University of Georgia.
Sen. Klobuchar: (28:26)
Our second witness is Helen Butler who serves as the Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and is a former member of the Morgan County Board of Elections. Ms. Butler has worked for the Georgia coalition for the People’s Agenda since 2003 and served on the Morgan County Board of Elections from 2010 until just last month. Ms. Butler previously served as a member of the state of Georgia Help America Vote Act Advisory Committee. And in 2013, she was appointed to serve on the US commission on civil rights as a member of the Georgia Advisory Committee. Ms. Butler recently received the-
Sen. Klobuchar: (29:03)
… Committee, Ms. Butler recently received the AFL-CIO Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Defender of the Dream award, and in 2002, she received the National Associations of Secretary of State award for voter education. Ms. Butler earned her Bachelor of Business Administration and Masters of Public Administration degrees from the University of Georgia and she was one of the first 50 African-American students to attend the University of Georgia after the integration of the school in 1961.
Sen. Klobuchar: (29:32)
Finally, our third witness is Mr. Jose Antonio Segarra, a resident of Houston County and a Georgia voter since he moved to Georgia in 1992, as an air force officer and registered to vote in the state that same year. Mr. Segarra has served in the air force for 35 years and is an engineer at Robins Air Force Base. He served for six years as a military officer, including serving during Operation Desert Storm.
Sen. Klobuchar: (30:04)
Mr. Segarra has voted in every general election in Georgia since moving to this state, including the November, 2020 presidential election and January, 2021 senate runoff elections. During both of those elections, he voted early and in-person, he waited for over three hours in line during the November presidential election, and also waited during the January runoff election. He was determined to vote. He lives in Warner Robins, Georgia with his wife of 33 years and has three children and one grandchild.
Sen. Klobuchar: (30:39)
Now, we will swear in the witnesses. Stand up. Thank you. Do you swear that the testimony you give today is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Senator Sally Harrell: (30:55)
Ms. Butler: (30:55)
Mr. Segarra: (30:55)
Sen. Klobuchar: (30:58)
Thank you very much. All right. So why don’t we start with you, Ms. Harris. Thank you for being here.
Senator Sally Harrell: (31:05)
Yes. Thank you. Madam Chairwoman members of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, thank you so much for coming to Georgia today, to hear our story, we desperately need more help. I am Senator Sally Harrell and I’m serving my fifth term in the Georgia General Assembly, representing the Northern suburbs of the Atlanta area. In my capacity, as a minority member of the Senate ethics committee, I have deliberated several large and impactful pieces of legislation in Georgia, including House Bill 316, which paved the way for a statewide procurement of new computerized voting machines with printed ballots, paper ballots, and more recently, Senate Bill 202, the bill that just became law in Georgia.
Senator Sally Harrell: (32:02)
Though Senate Bill 202 bears the title Senate Bill, you might be surprised to know that this bill was never vetted by the Senate Ethics Committee. When Senate Ethics passed Senate Bill 202, it was a two page bill addressing absentee ballot applications.
Senator Sally Harrell: (32:22)
The House replaced this bill with a new 98 page voting bill and the only vote that the Senate had on this new bill was to agree or to disagree with the changes made by the house. There was virtually no chance to debate this bill in the Senate committee or on the Senate floor.
Senator Sally Harrell: (32:47)
The Senate ethics committee did however, consider dozens of election bills during the 2021 session. Some of these bills would have resulted in obstacles to voting, much more severe than what finally passed in Senate Bill 202. For example, the majority party proposed ending Georgia’s department of motor vehicles automatic voter registration. They attempted to eliminate Sunday early voting and thus, the popular program Souls to the Polls events that are found in our black communities. They also tried to eliminate no excuse absentee voting, which they themselves had enacted when they gained power in 2005.
Senator Sally Harrell: (33:40)
All these discussions were held in committee rooms, eerily void of the public. This was due to the pandemic, but it was also due to constant last minute, meeting notices as well as committee hearings scheduled before Dawn and after desk. Election bills were rushed through and voted on along party lines. The Georgia Secretary of State who oversees our elections was never asked to address the committee.
Senator Sally Harrell: (34:14)
Minority party committee members often saw bills for the first time minutes before they were voted on. Questions addressed to bill authors by minority members were frequently answered dishonestly and disrespectfully. It was very apparent to me that there is no required oath to tell the truth in the Georgia General Assembly.
Senator Sally Harrell: (34:41)
I’m never asking a legislator, the one who wanted it to end automatic voter registration, if he could explain his claim that this bill increased voter confidence, he simply said, “It does.” So I changed the wording of my question a bit and ask him again, same answer, “It does.” In the nine years I have served in the Georgia General Assembly, I had never seen such a blatant disregard for the legislative process as I did with Senate Bill 202, and I see my colleagues nodding their heads with me.
Senator Sally Harrell: (35:23)
Georgia’s legislative process needs reform much more so than our voting laws do. It is the voters who will suffer. One of my constituents worked the polls at a library in my district, which prior to the election had been an early voting location. She told me the story of a young man who came to the library on his lunch hour, thinking he could vote because he had voted at the library in the past. However, since it was election day, he was supposed to vote in his home precinct, which was way across town, because he couldn’t take more time off work, he cast a provisional ballot.
Senator Sally Harrell: (36:06)
Now, under Senate Bill 202, that man’s vote would have been thrown out because it was cast before 5:00 PM. Had the majority party not rushed through Senate Bill 202 with total disregard to public comments and input from experts, the Georgia General Assembly could be holding hearings right now, learning and studying actual problems with our election system, rather than reacting from fallout from conspiracy theories and lies.
Senator Sally Harrell: (36:41)
Georgia is not unique. Election laws are currently being written all across the nation. Obviously, from our previous testimony, they’re even mimicking Georgia’s laws, but where you live shouldn’t determine how hard it is to vote or whether or not your vote counts. This is the time to take action to pass national voting standards, and I implore you to do so.
Senator Sally Harrell: (37:13)
Thank you for allowing me to take this time to address you this morning and I do look forward to your questions.
Sen. Klobuchar: (37:20)
Thank you very much. Ms. Butler.
Ms. Butler: (37:23)
Good morning, Chairwoman Klobuchar and members of the committee. Thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity. Of course, The Peoples Agenda is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by the late, Dr. Joseph Lowery, and is made up of representatives from diverse organizations throughout the state. We’ve always been dedicated to fighting for the voting rights of Georgia citizens through public education, training, advocacy, and litigation.
Ms. Butler: (37:55)
In wake of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder decision and due to the lack of the pre-clearance process, we have been forced to spend even more time and resources fighting discriminatory voting laws and policies and practices at the state and local levels. It’s ironic that 56 years later, we are still fighting those same voter suppression laws that our founder, Dr. Lowery, along with Congressman Lewis, Dr. King, and so many others fought against in 1965.
Ms. Butler: (38:33)
Today. We’re faced with new laws passed by the majority Republican Georgia General Assembly, in the wake of efforts by the former president and his allies to undermine the confidence in Georgia’s elections with false and misleading claims of massive voter fraud. The majority party of the general assembly wasted no time using that disinformation campaign as the foundation for passing numerous new restrictions on the right to vote in Georgia.
Ms. Butler: (39:06)
My written testimony that I submitted to you outlined numerous burdensome and arbitrary requirements, and other changes that directly attacked voting methods being used by black voters and other voters of color in Georgia, in greater numbers. These changes also impact nonprofit, civic engagement organization like ours, which devotes substantial time and resources to register, educate, and mobilize communities of color and assist voters broken before and on election day through our election protection program.
Ms. Butler: (39:45)
What I want to talk about today, my service as a member of the Morgan County Board of Elections. I served there from 2010 until my termination as a board member on July 1st, 2021, following the passage of a separate law, placing the power to appoint board members in the hands of a majority white, Republican board of county commissioners instead of this long standing bi-partisan appointment process.
Ms. Butler: (40:20)
During my time on the Morgan County Board of Elections, I took my position as a board member very seriously, and worked to ensure the administration of elections of Morgan County was done fairly for all voters, regardless of partisan preference, race, or ethnic origin. We certified elections, determined which polling locations should be open. We counted the absentee ballots. We decided whose provisional ballots counted. We never had a violation during my time that I served on this board.
Ms. Butler: (41:02)
The reconstitution of county boards of elections to ensure majority party control and the takeover provisions are the SB 202 allowing for the majority party in the legislature to dictate policy by the state election board to take over the day to day administration of county boards of elections and remove county supervisors of elections raises the specter that the goal will be to nullify the lawful votes of Georgia voters when the majority party is not satisfied with the outcome of an election, thereby achieving a result that the former president was unable to obtain in 2020.
Ms. Butler: (41:49)
In short, the numerous changes in SB 202 attacking voting methods increasingly used by black voters and other voters of color, taken in conjunction with the undemocratic takeover of board of election, may lead to the partisan nullification of lawful votes, clearly demonstrate why federal standards must be active to restore the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, including the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, S 1 For the People Act and SB S 2155 Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021.
Ms. Butler: (42:38)
It is critical. It was not just in my county of Morgan County that they have taken over control. They are now looking at other locations to take over. We’ve worked too hard to ensure equal and fair access to the ballot to turn back now. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and thank you for your time.
Sen. Klobuchar: (43:02)
Thank you, Ms. Butler. Do you want to explain, your county is a rural county, right? Where are you located?
Ms. Butler: (43:06)
It is definitely a rural county. It’s 60 miles east of Atlanta going towards Augusta.
Sen. Klobuchar: (43:13)
Okay. I mean, not everyone’s from Georgia here, so I thought it’d be good to clarify that.
Sen. Klobuchar: (43:18)
Okay, Mr. Segarra.
Mr. Segarra: (43:21)
Good morning, Madam Chairwoman Klobuchar and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity you have given me to express my voting experience in the 2020 general election. I came to Georgia as a US Air Force officer in August of 1992. I served in the air force between 1986 and 1992 and served during the Gulf War. I still work for the air force at Robins Air Force Base.
Mr. Segarra: (43:52)
Voting is sacred to me. I see the voting process as one that should be as easy as possible for all eligible voters and I feel like voting rules should be everything but, in no way to restrict people’s freedom to vote. This past year, I had to go to extraordinary lengths to accomplish the simple but consequential task of casting my ballot.
Mr. Segarra: (44:23)
I, along with thousands of Georgians, had to wait for hours in order to cast my vote. In fact, I had to go to the polls twice in order to vote. The first time I went to the closest polling place, opened the first day of early voting. That was Perry Courthouse in Perry, Georgia. I went with an elderly couple in their seventies.
Mr. Segarra: (44:55)
We arrived at 7:15 in the morning, Tuesday, October 13, knowing that the voting polls would open at 8:00 AM. We thought that we arrived with plenty of time to vote quickly and be on our way. To our surprise, there was already a line around the courthouse, snaking all the way around the block. One of my elderly friends is a knee replacement candidate and he’s a diabetic, and his wife, a retired teacher from the state of Georgia, has an acute arthritis condition and uses a walker.
Mr. Segarra: (45:36)
I was worried about them standing in line and going up the stairs as there was no separate line for people with disabilities. We knew that they could not sustain waiting in that line. So we left without voting. They ended up voting by mail-in.
Mr. Segarra: (45:58)
A week later, on October 27, 2020, a Tuesday, my wife and I went back to early vote. This time, we went to the new the Georgia Technical College in Warner Robbins, which was open only for the last two weeks of early voting. We arrived around 3:00 PM. My wife had a coworker who recently moved from Puerto Rico and was new to Georgia. She registered to vote, but had no previous experience voting in Georgia and was confused about the process.
Mr. Segarra: (46:40)
We arranged to meet her at the time we arrived at the line at the voting place. Once again, the line outside, around the building, in the open with no protection from the elements, after an hour and a half standing there outside, we made it inside the building, finally, just to find out that the line inside the building was just as long as the line outside the building.
Mr. Segarra: (47:12)
My wife’s coworker became concerned that she would not be in time to pick up her baby at the childcare center, which closed at 6:00 PM. We ended up casting them our ballots around 6:00 PM, three hours after we arrived. We learned later that her husband had to take time off from work and was able to pick up the baby. We were able to handle those three hours standing in line, but we know that not everybody can.
Mr. Segarra: (47:48)
Election observers reported that several people fainted while in line in Savannah and in Atlanta. I have also learned that between 2012 and 2018, 214 voting locations were closed in the state of Georgia, mostly affecting minority voters, making this issue even worse. Senators, this is wrong. It should not take so long to vote.
Mr. Segarra: (48:21)
According to the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, no citizen should have to wait more than 30 minutes to vote. I had to wait six times that measure and other citizens of this state had to wait even more. It is unacceptable that in Houston, Cobb and Chatham Counties, a person will have to wait half a day or miss a full day of work or maybe two, just to exercise their constitutional right.
Mr. Segarra: (48:57)
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 burdens. We need to have an adequate number of polling places, properly resourced and open for an as expensive period of time as possible, especially after regular duty hours. Voters should have the opportunity to vote on Saturdays or Sundays. After all, if malls are open on Sundays, why not voting places? Lots of people work on Saturdays, so Sundays need to be an option as well.It would also make it much easier for some people to vote, if election day were to be a holiday.
Mr. Segarra: (49:57)
In conclusion, I serve my country as a member of the armed forces and continue to serve by encouraging voting in my community. I am here to respectfully ask for your help, Senators, in protecting the freedom of all voters to vote, regardless of their political affiliation, by passing legislation, that will address the unacceptably long waiting in lines and ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to participate, not just those of us who can take three hours off from work and stand in line. So that nobody has to choose between a paycheck and exercising a much sacred constitutional right. Thank you.
Sen. Klobuchar: (50:52)
Thank you very much, Mr. Segarra. Thanks to all our witnesses. I do you want to make clear that we, of course, gave the opportunity for our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to provide witnesses to defend the law, but they chose not to have anyone here or had trouble finding anyone here to defend this law.
Sen. Klobuchar: (51:11)
With that, I would like to ask you, Mr. Segarra, as someone who has served our country, shared your story about what happened in Houston county, in south central Georgia. When you signed up to serve our country, to join the air force, you didn’t have to wait in line, is that correct?
Mr. Segarra: (51:30)
That is correct, Madam.
Sen. Klobuchar: (51:32)
And most people who you know who serve, they were probably welcomed to serve and to put their life on the front line and they didn’t have to stand in a waiting line?
Mr. Segarra: (51:40)
That is correct.
Sen. Klobuchar: (51:42)
Do you agree that voters shouldn’t have to wait in line to participate in our democracy?
Mr. Segarra: (51:46)
Sen. Klobuchar: (51:48)
Okay. How does that make you feel when you have to go to those lengths, not only for yourself and your family, but your neighbors and friends and seniors, to help them, when in fact you have served our country on the front line. Tell me a little bit about that, your decision to serve our country and then, your devotion to our democracy.
Mr. Segarra: (52:13)
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, in a family with a military background. My grandfather served in the frontline in Europe, during World War II, in the front line in Korea, and also in Vietnam. He was my inspiration to join the military and I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Mr. Segarra: (52:42)
As citizens of this nation, we have the moral right and sacred duty to vote. I felt awful that I was standing in line, got there and was not able to cast my vote, nor the people that I brought with me. I saw people in the line waiting. I saw people in that line coming into the parking lot and seeing the size of the line and leaving that’s not acceptable. So blood much was shed in those battles and the minimum we can do as citizens is to be allowed to exercise freely our right to vote.
Sen. Klobuchar: (53:23)
Thank you. And yesterday, I was in Cobb County with Stacey Abrams and we heard very similar stories from across Georgia, with the lines and people getting so hot in the sun and the fact that this bill would now fact denied the right of non-partisan volunteers to provide water would make things, I would say, even worse.
Sen. Klobuchar: (53:46)
So let me go to you, Ms. Butler. You saw many voters cast ballots last year as a former election official in rural Morgan County. Do you agree that the new Georgia law will result in fewer voters casting a ballot in future elections? And how do you think it’s going to impact the citizens in your county?
Ms. Butler: (54:09)
It definitely will make it more difficult, various hurdles that they will have to get across, to even exercise their right to vote. For instance, in rural Georgia, you don’t have broadband. Now, you have photo ID, you have to make copies of those. You can’t upload them on a portal for the absentee ballot portal that they’re supposed to put in place. There isn’t broadband that people have in those rural areas that will be able to do that.
Ms. Butler: (54:42)
To even make copies, for each and every election, you have to make a copy of that ID in order to be able to use the process of absentee voting, and in COVID, as it is still flaring up again, we know that it may still be in place for this next election cycle that’s coming up, but it makes it more difficult for people to really exercise their right.
Ms. Butler: (55:10)
For me, being on the board, having people that are able to look at the process and say, “This is how we should do it,” is not going to be available as well, because you’ll have these partisan boards that will be instituted by a one-sided party, for my county, exactly. So it will take away the ability of people to have more polling locations, drop boxes inside, the hours that they’ll be able to vote.
Ms. Butler: (55:47)
The farmers. You have people that do farming, they work late hours. They won’t be able to get there by five o’clock, if they do, they lose revenue. So those are the kinds of things that will happen as a result of these barriers that are put in place.
Ms. Butler: (56:05)
They may be able to get over their hurdles, but my God, what kind of barriers will they have to do to get there to that. Paying somebody to take you to that polling location, for those hours. You can only use a drop box is early voting-
Sen. Klobuchar: (56:22)
Early voting locations and following those hours. So if you had a farmer that wanted to go there afterwards, those drop boxes won’t even be allowed to receive votes, which is the whole idea of a drop box, in addition to less drop boxes.
Ms. Butler: (56:35)
Exactly, and if you missed the early voting period, you won’t be able to use the drop box process at all. So that is a problem with this bill.
Sen. Klobuchar: (56:44)
Okay. Thank you very much. Senator Harrell, another strange thing in this bill, I guess not strange, but intentional, is that they brought back the idea that you have to put your birth date in the envelope. Is that correct? The inner envelope?
Senator Sally Harrell: (56:57)
Sorry. There are several things that you have to write on the envelope and then the flap covers that information. But one of the reasons that the birthdate was removed is because people got confused and instead of putting their birth date, they could the date that they-
Sen. Klobuchar: (57:16)
Cast their ballot. I think they would think that date was more relevant at that moment. Yes.
Senator Sally Harrell: (57:21)
Right, exactly. So that led to confusion. So they’ve, again, legislated situations that are going to increase the confusion on the part of the voters and give the election officials, which are going to be more partisan, more reason to reject to those ballots.
Sen. Klobuchar: (57:39)
And I hope people watch today see this pattern here because a lot of focus has been on the water. We are grateful to Senator Ossoff for the bill to address that, but we know there’s even more and a lot of this is about confusion, the different rules that were set that you can’t vote on Saturday and Sundays in the runoff, but you can in the general election. You can imagine someone might’ve voted that way, they think they can …
Sen. Klobuchar: (58:03)
You can imagine someone might’ve voted that way. They think they can, and then they show up and they find out they can’t, the date going back on the envelope. There’s changing hours and polling locations that are open for one election and not the other. Could you briefly talk about, Senator Harrell, how that just leads to people just turning away from voting?
Senator Sally Harrell: (58:21)
Sure. So in general, this bill is just making it harder to vote. In 2020, 26% of our voters voted by mail and that was due to the pandemic. I assumed that, that will probably go back down, but many of the people who voted by mail did so because they knew the process was confusing but they knew they knew how to do it. And it would mean that if they voted by mail, they didn’t have to show up in person to vote, which would keep the lines shorter. So the more you confuse the vote by mail process, the more people are going to be in line to vote in person. And when they can’t file those absentee ballots, the weekend before the election, those ballots have to be canceled in person, which gums up the lines more.
Sen. Klobuchar: (59:11)
Uh Huh. So let me just ask you one last question. Some people claim that ID requirements were needed to prevent fraud, but we know that election fraud is exceedingly rare. In fact, the New York Times editorial board noted Oregon, home of my good friend, Senator Merkley has sent out more than 100 million mail in ballots since 2000 and has documented only about a dozen cases of proven fraud. Rounded to the seventh decimal point that’s .0000001 of all votes casts. Do you think, just based on what you know of the legislative discussion in Georgia, do you think that the new identification requirements in SB 202 in Georgia were really intended to prevent fraud?
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:00:00)
No, I actually don’t. And we had a number of Republicans who stated that, in fact.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:00:06)
Really? They said that they weren’t intended to, because I thought that you were saying they were [crosstalk 01:00:11]
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:00:11)
No, in fact, one of my colleagues in the House, Representative Alan Powell, actually in a committee meeting said to somebody who was testifying, “You’re correct. It wasn’t found,” meaning fraud, “It’s just in a lot of people’s minds that there was.” He actually said that in a committee meeting, it’s really not there, it’s just in a lot of people’s minds that there was. So this legislation is based on things of the imagination in people’s minds.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:00:47)
Well, and much worse stuff than that. So I would call that, as a former prosecutor, a smoking gun piece of evidence. Where you have someone admitting that there really isn’t fraud, but they’re going ahead anyway, so thank you. Senator Merkley.
Senator Merkley: (01:01:03)
Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you all for your testimony, Mr. Segarra, you mentioned that a lot of voting locations were eliminated. I think you said hundreds of voting locations that had a bigger effect, if I understood you correctly, on communities of color. Did I understand that correctly?
Mr. Segarra: (01:01:20)
That is correct.
Senator Merkley: (01:01:21)
So we have a bill, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which says that denial of the ability to vote or the abridgment to vote is unlawful when it is targeted at communities of color. It sounds like, certainly at least in spirit and perhaps in law, a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Mr. Segarra: (01:01:43)
That is correct.
Senator Merkley: (01:01:44)
And so I am very struck that there was a significant factor of using long lines and fewer voting locations targeted at communities of color. And it’s just wrong on every moral, ethical and perhaps illegal level. So, that’s an issue that should be fixed. I wanted to ask State Senator Harrell in those 80 pages of Senate Bill 202, 202, I’ve got the number right? Did they address having a fair number of precincts and a solution so that people would not have to wait in line so that everyone could have a fair and free equal chance to vote?
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:02:28)
There actually is a section in the bill that says that if it’s documented that people have to wait for a certain amount of time, that during the next election that precinct would be split. But that’s a bit of a smoking gun as well, because another tactic that’s been used in the past for voter suppression is the changing of precinct locations. Okay? So, voters are creatures, people are creatures of habit. They tend to … if they did something one way once, they think that that is supposed to happen the same way the next time, and that’s logical. So the voting location changes or the voting location, the precinct gets split, they go to where they used to vote and wait in line. And their names not on the roll, so then they have to go someplace else or they go someplace and it’s closed and they don’t know where to go.
Senator Merkley: (01:03:27)
Right, and so policy you do in a future election is pretty irrelevant because they can change the precinct locations any way in all sorts of other fashions. One of the points of confusion I also heard was that the early voting locations were not necessarily the same as election day locations and that created confusion. Does the bill that was written address that real problem?
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:03:48)
No, it does not. And that is a huge issue for voters showing up where they voted early and finding out that they can’t vote there, like the gentlemen that I described.
Senator Merkley: (01:03:58)
In fact, they made it worse because they said, if you vote out of precinct on election day, too bad, your vote is burned up, wasted-
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:04:06)
Unless it’s after 5:00.
Senator Merkley: (01:04:06)
… shredded. That is really completely outrageous. As the chairwoman pointed out, in Oregon, we’ve had vote by mail. It was initiated by Republicans in our state who want to increase turnout in the Republican party. We have vote by mail in Utah, a very red state. So this is not then a partisan issue at all, in that it serves all citizens well, and it’s an antidote to the antics on election day. Because what we see across the nation is, it’s so easy to discourage or obstruct voting on election day. You move the location. You put the location where there’s not enough parking. You under staff it so people are in long lines. We heard yesterday about folks who had waited one, a man, six and a half hours, one woman, seven hours, to vote. People have children to pick up at daycare. They have jobs they can’t be apart from. They have health conditions. So aren’t these election day tactics really, basically, another new form of Jim Crow antics to try to prevent black Georgians from voting? Mrs. Butler?
Ms. Butler: (01:05:14)
I would say, yes, it is. It’s for people of color. It was put in place just for that purpose, long lines and making it more difficult is just the barrier.
Senator Merkley: (01:05:30)
Well, I was struck by a testimony that the No Excuse Vote By Mail was implemented while the state, as I understand it, was a majority Republican in the legislature, in the House and the Senate and I believe the governorship, as well, in 2005. So what magically happened? Were there, as pointed out in Oregon, we have found fraud is infinitesimally rare. And when it happens, that fraud is normally somebody who moved into Oregon from another state so they voted in an earlier primary, then they vote in a later primary, which they’re not supposed to do or something of that nature. We’re talking, even those small number of cases that to the seventh decimal point rare, but was something dramatically different in Georgia that suddenly vote by mail became a documented source of corruption or illegality?
Ms. Butler: (01:06:24)
Well, it was primarily used beforehand by non people of color. This time, because of the pandemic, a lot of people of color decide that they weren’t going to get exposed to COVID, so they use the vote by mail process. We were pushing vote by mail. We wanted people to be safe. We wanted our election workers to be safe. So therefore we all did vote by mail. We have been pushing for decades now, Souls to the Polls, our vote from the comfort of your pew. I did a program with faith-based organizations where we would teach them how to use the absentee voting process and do it as a Sunday activity where they all fill out their ballots at home, bring it, put it in the mail and the mail man picks it up and they will have voted from the comfort of the pew with their pastors. That’s a process we were teaching them to do.
Senator Merkley: (01:07:28)
When this tool was primarily utilized by white voters, it was promoted and celebrated. But when black Georgians said, “We too will use this tool,” suddenly it came under attack by the legislature.
Ms. Butler: (01:07:43)
Senator Merkley: (01:07:44)
I’m just extraordinarily appalled by this because we were the first vote by mail state. We, Oregon, paid a lot of attention to this. There are multiple divisions, which I will not go through because you’re all familiar with them, attached to making it harder to do vote by mail. From drop boxes, to ID requirements, so on and so forth. But this is of extraordinary concern that here we are in the year 2021, 56 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, and we thought we had finally come to the point of a full understanding of America, that we are all about fair and free elections for every American to participate in, new forms of obstruction that are more subtle. I think Georgia was the first state in the Union to produce a poll tax, to try to prevent poor individuals from voting and communities of color from voting. Well, here we are with a modern version of that, and it is deeply disturbing. I thank you all for your testimony.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:08:49)
Thank you, Senator Merkley. Senator Padilla.
Senator Padilla: (01:08:54)
Thank you, Madam Chair. I want to pick up on an issue that Senator Merkley raised about the partisanship versus bipartisanship nature of this whole conversation. You know, when, we’re in Washington, in the Capitol, many of our Republican colleagues talk about the need for bipartisanship if we’re going to be amending or changing voting rights laws or election laws and how Democrats should not pass voting rights protections on a party line basis. That’s what they tell us. Now, but I agree, we shouldn’t have to. Defending our fundamental right to vote should not be a partisan issue. It should be a non partisan issue.
Senator Padilla: (01:09:49)
And just last week in a judiciary committee hearing, reminded our colleagues, both sides of the aisle, of this radical concept. I think we all were taught in high school government class, that our democracy works best when as many eligible people participate. We actually went around the table with the witnesses, both Democratic witnesses and Republican witnesses and asked the question if they agree, or if they disagreed. Of course, they all agreed. Our democracy is stronger when more eligible people participate, not less. But unfortunately our Republican colleague’s deeds don’t match their words. They’ll say publicly that they support voting rights, but their actions show something different.
Senator Padilla: (01:10:45)
When a lot of our Republican colleagues in the Senate minority held up democracy expanding legislation, like For The People Act in Washington, they stay silent when their Republican colleagues in state house after state house, after state house, across the country are ramming through voter suppression laws, without input from democratic colleagues in those very same state houses. In the news these days is dozens of legislators from Texas that have left the state to break quorum in an effort to block these voter suppression laws. They’re in Washington bringing their advocacy there. Texas is the most recent example, but clearly in calendar year 2021, Georgia was the first.
Senator Padilla: (01:11:47)
I have a question for Senator Harrell. I know you touched on this in your earlier testimony, you serve on the Ethics Committee and you saw the change in SB 202 from an original two page bill to a 98 page bill that was passed by the House, then by the Senate. Can you describe, just shed a little bit more light on how bipartisan or collaborative the process was in the Georgia State House or how it wasn’t.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:12:16)
There was not an ounce of bipartisanship and there wasn’t back when we had the voting machine legislation, either. Amendments were brought forward, they were immediately opposed. Zero amendments were accepted. I’ve never seen anything like it, really. It’s extremely disappointing.
Senator Padilla: (01:12:42)
Thank you. And because I care so much, for those who may not be aware, prior to joining the Senate, I served as California Secretary of State. I served as the chief elections officer for the state with the largest population, the most diverse population. I’m proud that there, we built the most inclusive democracy. Maintaining the security integrity of our elections, but making it easier for eligible voters to register, to stay registered and to be able to cast their ballot. And so I’ve tried to try to figure out where our Republican colleagues are going with this or what they’re thinking. I’ve heard in event after event, in committee after committee, their option. They’ll start a lot of their presentations and discussions and debates with a simple idea that they’re just trying to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat. Have you heard that? Now, the phrase totally made its way here to Georgia, too.
Senator Padilla: (01:13:47)
So I just want to highlight that we all got the second part down right. The harder to cheat, because study after study, investigation after investigation, commission after commission, all shows the same thing, as Senator Merkley said. Voter fraud in America is exceedingly, exceedingly rare. Election official after election official has stood up for the integrity of the process, including the Georgia Republican Secretary of State, saying publicly there’s zero evidence of any widespread or systematic voter fraud. Even standing up to pressure from the former President of the United States. Yet, we see Republicans forcing through bills, as I mentioned, state house after state house, including SB 202, here in Georgia. So it makes us wonder what is their true motive?
Senator Padilla: (01:14:53)
But they forgot the first part of their equation, the easier to vote. And let me not reference the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Let me insert into the conversation here today the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which was adopted on a bipartisan basis. Oh, how times have changed. But let me read Section Two of the National Voter Registration Act, and I’ll be brief here. In the findings, ” The Congress finds that the rights of citizens of the United States to vote is a fundamental right.” And it goes on to say, “It is the duty of the federal, state and local governments to promote the exercise of that right.”
Senator Padilla: (01:15:55)
Pretty clear to me. So should we not be better focused if had the election security piece down, putting more energy and effort on to what it is that truly makes it easier for eligible people to vote. And focus on the issues of long lines. Focus on the issues of unfair provisional ballot policies. Focus on, maybe make it again so that more people can vote by mail without needing an excuse, without having to be of a certain age. All these things. So again, Senator Harrell, then we’ll go to Mrs. Butler and Mr. Segarra, what are two examples of SB 202? Are we making it easier to vote or are we violating the National Voter Registration Act and not facilitating people’s participation in our democracy. Senator.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:16:56)
Yes, I wanted to actually correct myself. When I said 0% bipartisan support, I’d like to change that to 2%, because I remember that there were two Democratic bills, small Democratic bills that were included in Senate bill 202. One was to allow absentee ballots to be scanned prior to election day in order to speed up the counting. This was something that was done during emergency rule that they codified. The second was a colleague of mine, had a Bill that required signage to be put up. Four by four signs at precinct places that had closed or were changed and that bill was included in Senate Bill 202. So since I am testifying under oath, I wanted to clarify that I wanted to up the 0% to 2% participation.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:17:45)
Okay, excellent. Anyone else want to add anything? Okay.
Ms. Butler: (01:17:52)
You said what would, that it would make it easy to vote? Well, I think-
Senator Padilla: (01:17:58)
Or harder, I’m just trying to-
Ms. Butler: (01:18:00)
Well, one of the hard things of course is out of the provisional ballot process. Out of precinct voting would make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote as opposed to what is required on the HABA to allow them to do that. So to me, that is a provision that needs to be corrected to allow people to vote provisionally.
Speaker 1: (01:18:30)
One example of the good is expanding voting window for the early voting to three weeks. I think it’s very important that people have more time to exercise their constitutional right.
Senator Merkley: (01:18:43)
I’ll just end with a quick note because I know I’m way over my time. But this before five versus after five, on the one hand some people say, “That’s completely arbitrary.” I don’t think so. I’ve seen elections, not just as an election official, not just as a candidate, not just as a voter, as an organizer, but working folks, there’s a surge when you get off of work to go vote on election day. So those were impacted before and after, it is not proportion.
Ms. Butler: (01:19:14)
One of our first responders will be able to actually exercise their right to vote.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:19:19)
Right, very good.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:19:19)
I actually filed a bill that would allow people to vote in any precinct. We do that during early voting already. You can go anywhere in the county and cast your vote.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:19:30)
In the county, you’re talking about in the county.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:19:32)
In the county. In the county, you can vote. You can vote anywhere in the county during early voting. We have the technology now to do that. The old precinct idea of voting at your polling place was before we had that technology. So I actually filed a bill that would allow you to vote in any precinct within your county on election day.
Senator Padilla: (01:19:51)
We have that in the questions for any of your colleagues if they’re wondering, because Colorado has it, what they call vote centers, California does. Arizona, Nevada during its early voting period.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:20:01)
You see why we’re so lucky to have Senator Padilla on this committee. Not only does he know his stuff but he takes the red eye to get here?
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:20:08)
Next up, we’ve got Senator Ossoff.
Senator Ossoff: (01:20:11)
Thank you, Madam Chair. And thank you for bringing the committee to the great state of Georgia. Thank you to our panel for your testimony today. I want to note that it’s just three days since we marked the first anniversary of the passing of Congressman John Lewis, a man who had his skull fractured marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. His self sacrifice and the sacrifice of hundreds of others that day, paving the way for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And as you all know well, Congressman Lewis was proud of the progress that our country has made, but he also urged vigilance because the right to vote can never be taken for granted.
Senator Ossoff: (01:20:53)
And that vigilance is seriously needed today. As Georgia State Legislature has asked restrictions on ballot access, surgically targeting black voters in the state of Georgia, restricting access to early voting and runoff elections, restricting access to absentee ballots. Making it a crime punishable by up to two years in prison for a non-partisan Good Samaritan volunteer to hand a bottle of water to a voter, unjustly forced to wait five hours to vote. And these restrictions are not meant to solve any real problem observed in the administration of Georgia elections. The only real problem for George’s GOP is that they lost.
Senator Ossoff: (01:21:47)
But don’t take it from Democrats. Don’t take it from me. Take it from them. Take it from our Republican Lieutenant Governor, Jeff Duncan. Take it from our Republican Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger. Take it from the Chief Operations Officer at the Secretary of state’s office, Gabriel Sterling, who all avowed repeatedly that there was no evidence of widespread fraud, that it was a secure election conducted successfully.
Senator Ossoff: (01:22:16)
SB 202 passed in this state is a gross and transparent abuse of power, partisan legislation intended to make it harder for some voters to vote, to protect Republican power in this state and we, as the United States Congress under Article One, Section Four of the Constitution, have the full authority to establish minimum standards for ballot access across this country, to protect the right to vote and to prevent state legislatures from abusing their legislative power for partisan ends.
Senator Ossoff: (01:22:47)
And I want to ask you Ms. Butler, to shed some light on the intent of this law, which as I mentioned, restricts early voting in runoff elections, restricts access to vote by mail. What were the demographics of voters, Ms. Butler, in the 2020 election who made heaviest use of early voting and voting by mail?
Ms. Butler: (01:23:09)
Well, early voting in Georgia is very popular. Over 60% of people exercise that method of voting. And certainly it was people of color, African Americans, Asian, Latino, that really used that method to vote because of the Pandemic. Beforehand, most of the time, who would vote in person, early voting, but this time we used absentee voting, we used early voting. We used both of those tools to really exercise our right to vote. So, most impact will be for people of color. Those language assisted, those people in the fields that are working, who don’t speak English fluently, that will be most impacted by a lot of SB 202, in terms of what Ids I’ve got to produce, how many times I produce them, that kind of thing. So it is really aimed and targeted, if you look at all the polling changes that happened within the state, those are targeted to people of color.
Senator Ossoff: (01:24:22)
And is it reasonable Ms. Butler, to presume that these restrictions on access to voting by mail will drive more people to need to vote in person?
Ms. Butler: (01:24:35)
Of course, it will. I mean, if you can’t exercise the absentee ballot process because you don’t ,have the IDs and by the Secretary Of State’s own words, there are approximately 3% of the 7 million registered voters who didn’t use an ID during that process. Well, that’s approximately 200,000 people. That can change any outcome of that election. But most of those people are people of color who don’t have access to the ID that is required. So yes, it will force them to stand in line and of course, where all of the polling locations are that have long lines have been documented to be in places where people of color exercise their right to vote. So it would most definitely impact them, whether it be in Randolph County, in rural Georgia, whether you will be in Gwinnett County, where there is the most diverse population in Georgia. So it will definitely force people to be in long lines, to be able to exercise their right to vote.
Ms. Butler: (01:25:47)
And all of the confusion around the rules is definitely something that would be a problem. To get an ID, driver services located in every county. So certain counties would have to drive to other counties. They only have it on certain days. They only have it on certain hours. So everything will make it difficult for people to be able to exercise their right as an absentee ballot and force them to stand in long lines that we saw in the general election. As well as some of the runoff locations where people had to stand for 7, 8, 9 hours to exercise their right to vote.
Senator Ossoff: (01:26:31)
So Ms. Butler, just to get it very clearly for the record, again, we are restricting access via this partisan legislation in Georgia passed by the Republican State Legislature to voting by mail. Driving more people to need to vote in person, while at the same time restricting access to early voting in runoff elections, driving up the time folks will have to wait. By the way, as I mentioned to you, once Ms. Butler, my wife and I had to wait four and a half hours to vote …
Senator Ossoff: (01:27:03)
My wife and I had to wait four and a half hours to vote in the primary last year. We vote at a majority black precinct. We had to wait four and a half hours to cast our ballots. I was on the ballot. That line was wrapped around the location for hours, and hours, and hours. And again, for the record, Ms. Butler, which voters, and this has been documented extensively, are typically made to wait much, much longer to vote in our state?
Ms. Butler: (01:27:28)
The people that wait the longest in this state are people of color, black, Latino, Asian American, and other people of color.
Senator Ossoff: (01:27:40)
Ms. Butler, is it correct? That S.B. 202 allows partisan appointees at the state election board-
Ms. Butler: (01:27:49)
It does. Of, sorry.
Senator Ossoff: (01:27:49)
To replace, reconstitute, and take over county election boards?
Ms. Butler: (01:27:55)
It does. And that is the most egregious part of SB 202, because as you know, those local boards control the implementation of the process from registration, to the counting of the ballots, to the certification of the election. So, where the polling locations are going to be, who’s going to be working those polling locations I can determine whether I have the hours of early voting from nine to five or seven to seven. But it is arbitrary. It gives a lot of leeway. But again, if I don’t like the outcome of a type of election, then with the reconstitution of the boards, they can take over and put in place a person that really has no knowledge of the process and can just implement what they want to have.
Senator Ossoff: (01:28:51)
So, partisan appointees can now take over local election boards. And isn’t it the case, Ms. Butler, that our own Republican secretary of state in this most recent election was threatened with political and personal reprisal and potential criminal prosecution by the sitting president of the United States if he didn’t, “Find the votes” to overturn the will of the people in Georgia?
Ms. Butler: (01:29:19)
Senator Ossoff: (01:29:20)
Thank you to our witnesses. Thank you, Madam chair.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:29:23)
Thank you very much. I think we have a little time for maybe three, four minutes of questions. I’ll let Senator Merkley start, but I first want to put on for each member, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record three letters that urge Congress to pass the For the People Act in the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, mentioned by you, Ms. Butler, thank you, to protect the freedom to vote. One submitted by the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, which highlights the challenges many Southern voters face in accessing the ballot box and the need for federal legislation to prevent this. Another submitted by the League of women Voters of Georgia, which outlines the restrictive measures in SB 202, and again, the need for federal legislation. And a final letter submitted by 17 chapters of Indivisible in Georgia representing over 9,200 Georgians, which underscores the need for democracy reform to also include campaign finance and redistricting reform. Without objection, the materials will be entered into the record.
Senator Ossoff: (01:30:28)
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:30:29)
Mm-hmm (affirmative). You have an objection?
Senator Ossoff: (01:30:30)
No, I do not. I would ask unanimous consent as well to submit two letters, one from a group of pastors led by Bishop Reginald Jackson, sixth district African Methodist Episcopal Church, and another from the DeKalb Pastors Christian Alliance.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:30:44)
Excellent. Thank you very much. That will be entered into the record. Senator Merkley.
Senator Merkley: (01:30:50)
So, I was thinking about three forms of corruption in the election process. One is partisanship. One is purging. And one is intimidation. And Senator Ossoff, I think, has addressed the partisanship and how important it is to have non-partisan process to inspire citizens that you’ll have fair elections. Elections shouldn’t be controlled by partisan local boards, or have the state legislature be able to stack the state election board, which can then replace the local county boards, I think, with a single individual under this.
Ms. Butler: (01:31:30)
Senator Merkley: (01:31:30)
And talk about a sense of inappropriateness, in terms of legitimacy of the election. I’m glad Senator Ossoff has raised that.
Senator Merkley: (01:31:42)
The second on purging, we did hear a lot about the purging of the voting rolls in Georgia across the nation. And so, I’m told that there was a high error rate, that 63% of the none of the citizens removed in 2019 were removed incorrectly. Every person removed incorrectly is a person who has been denied the right to vote. So, on the one hand, we have basically virtually zero cases of people inappropriately voting vote by mail. But in this case, we have thousands of individuals who are deliberately excluded from voting by being inappropriately moved from the registration list. Do we have any sense of how that impacted different communities across the state? I’ll ask whoever kind of feels like they have some sense of that.
Ms. Butler: (01:32:40)
Well, in terms of the purge process, it was predominantly people of color that were purged. If you look at the numbers themselves. Due to inaccurate addresses or mismatched… the People’s Agenda filed the lawsuit, along with the NAACP, just recently with the cap counting that we’re taking people off the roll incorrectly. And we’ve gotten that resolved. But that is generally what the makeup of the breakdown of the people that are usually purged.
Senator Merkley: (01:33:17)
Well, it’s certainly important that there not be a process that invalidates the right of citizens to vote. And I understand the Secretary of State in Georgia has announced that over 100,000 voters could have the registration canceled this year. And the highest number are in democratic leaning counties. So, another form of bias being introduced.
Senator Merkley: (01:33:44)
I wanted to turn to that third factor, which is intimidation and the issue that has been raised in election law from mass challenges, that one individual can challenge the legitimacy of basically everybody in that precinct, I believe, to be able to vote. And then, if they don’t appear in court to defend themselves, they become guilty until proven innocent. If you don’t appear in court in ten days, get notified to appear, your vote is invalidated. Senator Harrell, would you like to elaborate on what problem this is trying to address or, alternatively, what unfairness this is creating?
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:34:25)
Yes. I’m glad you brought this up because this is a section of Senate Bill 202 that most of the people in the public don’t know about and has not been discussed by the media. But it’s current law that citizens can challenge people’s registration or their vote. And this actually happened after the November election in my county, in DeKalb County where citizens challenged long, long lists of voter registrations. It might be because they compared databases and found somebody with the same name in Georgia as in Arizona. And so, that became a challenge. And it turned out that most of those were just duplicate names and they had different birth dates or things like that. So, the challenge didn’t work, but it took a lot of time for the local election boards to deal with those challenges, at the same time they were counting and recounting votes.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:35:24)
What Senate Bill 202 does is removes the cap for how many people can be challenged. So, unlimited numbers of names could be challenged now, which gums up the system. And it’s just one of those tactics. It’s another one of those tactics that just takes time away from people’s jobs. And that is a form of intimidation. It’s not only a form of intimidation for the person whose name is on the list, but it’s kind of an intimidation for our entire election infrastructure.
Senator Merkley: (01:36:01)
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:36:02)
Before I turn to Senator Padilla, just to add one more question to the topic, for the January, 2021 Senate runoff elections, a Texas based group actually challenged the eligibility of over 360,000 Georgians. I assume they didn’t know them. But only a few dozen cases had any… is this true that they challenged this from Texas?
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:36:26)
I have read that. There’s a specific organization that’s behind these challenges.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:36:31)
Okay. All right.
Ms. Butler: (01:36:32)
True to those.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:36:32)
Thank you. Senator, Padilla.
Senator Padilla: (01:36:34)
I have a follow up election administration question for this Butler. But before I do that, I know we talked about the trends in vote by mail participation in different voter groups. And I just wanted to add some statistics and data to the conversation and for the record. We know in Georgia, like in most parts of the country, black voters have historically been less likely to cast their ballots by mail than white voters. There’s something to be said about showing up and watching that ballot go into the ballot box. But, in recent years, that has changed. And especially in the 2020 election cycle, black voter’s reliance on absentee voting increased dramatically, even surpassing that of white voters.
Ms. Butler: (01:37:16)
Senator Padilla: (01:37:18)
In November, 2018, only 7% of black voters voted absentee. Two years later, November, 2020, almost 30% cast an absentee ballot compared to about 24% for white voters. In the 2021 run off, almost 28% of black voters cast an absentee ballot compared to 22% of white voters. Appreciate Ms. Butler, you keep recognizing it’s not just black voters, it’s voters of color, communities of color more broadly. I know Georgia is increasingly diverse. The Latino community registration has increased by 60% from 2016 to today. Latino turnout has grown by about 70% in the 2020 cycle. And similar trends when it comes to vote by mail, same for Asian voters, Native Americans, et cetera. So, I just thought it was helpful to add some data to the recognition of that.
Senator Padilla: (01:38:19)
The elections administration question is this, part on absentee ballots requests. As I understand, when requesting an absentee ballot, voters must now include either their driver’s license number on the application, and if they don’t have that, then you have to include a photocopy of some other form of ID. Alternative, for example, they could have maybe used the last four of social. That’s part of the voter record, part of maintaining accurate voter lists. But, when a voter votes to absentee ballot, they can include either the driver’s license or the last four of the social. So, why the difference in the criteria for requesting the ballot versus submitting the ballot? It seems to me that causes some confusion. So, that’s one question. The other part is the change of the drop-box policy, not just the reduction in the number of drop-boxes, which should be adding convenience, not less, but also what seems to be like an arbitrary deadline of three days before the election, you can’t use the drop-box anymore?
Ms. Butler: (01:39:37)
Let’s take first about the IDs for requesting a ballot versus actually voting on the ballot. Yes, there is a difference. And it’s confusing. If they don’t have a Georgia driver’s license or a Georgia ID, they can use a bank statement, a passport, some other document that they have. But the problem is with that… or they can even get a free photo ID for voting. You have that in Georgia. But, even with the free photo ID and the other forms of ID, you have to provide a copy of that ID. If you have a Georgia driver’s license or a Georgia ID, you can just put in the number and it can be matched. And again, to have the difference between the social security number and the driver’s license is just to confuse the voters, because now what do I need for application? What do I need for an actual exercise of my ballot. It’s just confusing. And therefore, having more for people to understand what the process is. It was not there for any other purpose than that.
Ms. Butler: (01:40:54)
We’ve been voting for decades now using absentee voting. You didn’t have to provide an ID, never had to provide an ID. But, all of a sudden, because of the turnout in 2020 and 2021, now we need to provide that ID. It hurts people with disabilities. It hurts older people that we help, illiterate people. I cannot now help that person complete their absentee ballot application that we were doing before. So, it can only be a relative or caretaker. I’m not their caretaker, so I can’t do it for them. I can’t turn it in for them. I used to could fax in hundreds of applications and they could get it at their home, fill it out, and mail it back in. So, they’re putting more restrictions on even accessing versus casting your ballot. So, it is just confusing to the voter. It will be confusing, and we’ll have to work to make sure people know what the process is.
Senator Padilla: (01:42:07)
Super quick comment on the drop-boxes.
Ms. Butler: (01:42:09)
The drop-boxes, again it was working perfectly for the pandemic. It was outside. It was available 24/7. It had cameras. They had to pick it up. There’s a log that two people had to pick it up so there was a witness to it. Now, it’s only during early voting. It’s inside the local boards of elections offices or the early voting locations. You have to go inside, which defeats the purpose. As well as the Post Office… I mean, you can’t rely on the Post Office. If I live in Albany, Georgia, it’s very rural, my mail goes to Florida and then comes back. So, I may never get it. So, that is a problem why we should have the drop-boxes without the burdensome of it being inside.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:43:03)
Okay. Very good. Senator Ossoff. Thanks, Senator Padilla.
Senator Ossoff: (01:43:06)
Thank you, Madame chair. And again, thanks to you for offering the people of Georgia and the opportunity to express our dismay at the blatant targeting of voters of color in our state with this voter suppression legislation. I noted, Mr. Segarra, that you raised your hand at the conclusion of my previous questioning. So, I’ll just offer you the opportunity to make any statement you so wish. And then, to each of the other two witnesses as well in conclusion.
Mr. Segarra: (01:43:35)
It was in line with a statement that you mentioned about the three gentlemen in our state who had the integrity to stand and stand for the people and do the right thing. I just want to bring that statement up. As a military, I give a lot of value to people with integrity. And these three gentlemen in this state, deserve to be-
Senator Ossoff: (01:44:01)
And Mr. Segarra, just for clarity and for the record, I believe you’re referring, are you not, to Lieutenant Governor Jeff Duncan, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Gabriel Sterling of the Secretary of State’s office, all three Republicans who stated emphatically that the election here was conducted securely and with integrity and that there was no fraud or malfeasance to alter the result. Correct?
Mr. Segarra: (01:44:27)
Thank is correct, Senator Ossoff.
Senator Ossoff: (01:44:28)
Thank you, Mr. Segarra. Ms. Butler, any final remarks?
Ms. Butler: (01:44:32)
My final remarks is you have our written testimony that has outlined a lot of problems with the bill. But it is imperative. Dr. Lowery and so many others gave their lives to make sure we had this right to vote. So, I’m asking that you pass S1, For the People Act, that you pass John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, because we need pre-clearance. And to also pass the bill that Reverend Warnock just introduced. We’ve got to have that to ensure that people can exercise their right to vote to choose the right people that will make policies that will improve their communities.
Senator Ossoff: (01:45:21)
Thank you, Ms. Butler. Senator Harrell.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:45:25)
Over the last few years, I have watched more and more efforts to suppress votes. And I’m constantly amazed at the creativity. Because, at first, it was like, “Oh, well, the machines can be hacked.” Well, the machines can still be hacked, but that’s kind of a high level hard thing to do. What I’ve seen develop over the last few years are very creative attempts to suppress votes. And it’s small things like, “Oh, we forgot the extension cords. We have a line. Amazing.” Or it’s what happened to Ms. Butler.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:46:04)
It’s these local bills that all of a sudden started appearing this past session on the local consent calendar, changing the way appointments are made to local boards. It took us a while to catch on what was going on. And then, as legislators, there was very little we could do about because the local consent calendar is voted on altogether, and we couldn’t pull out that bill that removed her from that board. We couldn’t pull out that bill because we weren’t members of that delegation. Only members of that delegation could pull out that bill that was changing the appointment from a bipartisan way of appointing members to an all white county commission appointing members. We couldn’t pull that bill out because we weren’t from her community. And, if we started voting against all the local bills, then we would end up having to vote against our own local bills. That is creative. And so, what I say to you, thank you again for coming to Georgia to listen to this story. 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.
Senator Sally Harrell: (01:47:21)
So, stay with us. We need to keep feeding you this information so that Congress can constantly help ensure that where you live doesn’t determine if your vote counts.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:47:39)
Senator Ossoff: (01:47:41)
Thank you, Senator.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:47:42)
Senator Ossoff: (01:47:42)
Madame Chair, I yield.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:47:43)
Thank you. That was amazingly said, as were all the comments from the witnesses. I want to thank you. And I think one of the messages we take away from this, and one of the things that I’ve learned, I know my colleagues have learned here, is the devil is in the details in these bills. That, if you’re looking for evil, you can find it pretty easily. And that evil is taking a runoff time period, which for those of us in states that don’t have run-offs and think it works fine just to make the final decision in the general election, this is somewhat unique. But, if you have a runoff, what they’ve done here for the last and final election that determines who’s going to be the U.S. Senator or other federal offices, they basically have said, “Well, we’re just going to limit that time to 28 days. And guess what? You can’t register during that time anymore, because our law says 29 days.”
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:48:35)
And we know very well that in this last election, 76,000 voters registered during that time. The devil is in the details. Or that these drop-off boxes cannot stay open beyond the time of the early voting. So, if you were working at night, as Senator Padilla was talking about, some of these voters who were working day and night, several jobs, well, then they can’t go to it, drop off box. And I don’t care if you are white, or black, if you’re in a rural area, if you’re suburban, or urban, these rules hurt you. They hurt people. They hurt working people that are trying to vote.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:49:15)
I come from a state that has some of the best voting laws in terms of making it easier for people to vote with same day registration and the like. As a result, we have the highest voter turnout, Jeff doesn’t like to hear this, almost every single year. And I do want to point out something as we talk about partisanship and what this all means, our state actually has produced Republican governors, Democratic governors, and Jesse Ventura. And we did that with open voting laws. And what I see as the difference when I go around our state is that, when more people vote, even if you might not like the outcome, they feel part of the franchise, the franchise of our democracy.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:50:01)
So, I think it’s really important to note for our colleagues back in Washington, we’re all going to have to leave very soon because we don’t want to lose our right to vote in the next vote we’re taking this evening. We have to get on a plane and go back. But that this is about our very democracy. And what we’ve learned here today has been incredibly helpful because so much of this is, like we said, in the details. And that’s why we came today. And we’ve got to be as sophisticated in Washington as the people who are trying to mess with us. That’s what Civil Rights legislation was back in the ’60s. And, as Senator Harrell just pointed out, people are doing this again. They’re finding new ways to mess with the fundamental rights of citizens to vote. And so, the way you get at that is you’re supposed to find salvation from the Constitution and from the federal government. And this is that moment. Senator Merkley.
Senator Merkley: (01:51:03)
So, John Lewis said the right to vote is precious. It’s almost sacred. It’s the most powerful nonviolent tool we have in a democratic society. And I think we all know that the vote is really the pulsating heart of a Republic. It’s under attack in a way I could never have imagined across the country. We have a responsibility under article one, section four of the constitution to set terms and conditions, basic standards across the country to secure the vote.
Senator Merkley: (01:51:36)
It isn’t just about fairness for the citizens of Georgia. Every citizen in the country is effected by having honest and fair elections everywhere because it affects the representation in Congress. And that affects laws that affect every citizen. So, we all have a stake in this.
Senator Merkley: (01:51:58)
As we entered the museum, there is the quote that… it’s powerful. I’ve heard it all my life where Senator Martin Luther King quoted the book of Amos. And what he said before that is he was referring to the barriers to voting targeted at black Americans and whether we would be satisfied while those barriers still remained. And then, he said, this ” No. We are not satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” And we are not going to be satisfied until we fully defend and protect the right to vote for every American, take on the issue of billionaires buying elections with dark money, and end gerrymandering. That is our responsibility.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:52:56)
Very good. Okay. Next, Senator Padilla, some closing remarks.
Senator Padilla: (01:53:01)
I’ll be briefing yield the bulk of my time to Senator Ossoff, our home state Senator here. Thank you for the hospitality. Just want to make something very clear for everybody. What we’ve done here today, what we’re trying to do in the Senate, it’s not about Democrat or Republican. It’s about our fundamental right to vote. Thank you.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:53:28)
Very good. Senator Ossoff.
Senator Ossoff: (01:53:31)
Well, thank you again, Madame Chair. And thank you again to our witnesses and to my colleagues for coming from across the country to examine the impact of this voter suppression law in Georgia. And I want to close by reflecting on something that Ms. Butler stated in her final remark, that the blatant racial targeting of this legislation makes so clear how vital it is that we restore the pre- clearance provisions under section five of the Voting Rights Act. And the legislation to restore pre-clearance is indeed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and our efforts to pass that legislation will continue robustly. Thank you again to our panel.
Sen. Klobuchar: (01:54:20)
All right. Thank you very much to the senators, to our witnesses, to Senator Warnock for being here. We really appreciate it. And the hearing record will remain open for one week and people are welcome to put anything on the record, including defenses of this bill, which we did not hear today, I think, for good reason. But the hearing record will remain open and we look forward to seeing all of you in the future, both in Georgia and in Washington, D.C. where we must get this done. Thank you. Hearing is adjourned.