Sally’s Senate Snapshot: Interim Edition
Time to Flex those Muscles!
People often ask me what Georgia legislators do when we’re not in session. Since we’re a part-time, “citizen” legislature, at the close of session we’re supposed to go back home to do whatever it is we were doing before we got elected — theoretically anyway.
Personally, I’ve been taking some time to recharge my batteries. After journeying out on a few rock climbing trips with my family, my husband Jay and I are now going to the climbing gym several times a week to build up our strength. Facing the kinds of political challenges we are up against these days is easier when I’ve got the muscles to take it on!
Bringing the U.S. Senate to Atlanta
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from the Policy Director of the U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee, chaired by Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Would I be willing to testify at a Committee Field Hearing on Voting Rights, addressing Georgia’s new election law? I pretty quickly gave a resounding, “Certainly!”
So on July 19th I testified before the U.S. Senate Rules Committee at a field hearing, appropriately held at the Center for Civil and Human Rights. I really appreciated how Sen. Amy Klobuchar brought the Committee to Atlanta to hear directly from the people. As she said, “If you just stay in Washington and get doused down and gridlocked out by our archaic procedures in the Senate, you lose sight of what you are looking for.”
Our team of witnesses certainly gave Sen. Klobuchar what she was looking for! Helen Butler, Executive Director of the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda, told her story about how she was removed as a member of her local election board because her local legislators changed the appointment process — instead of being appointed by both political parties, appointments are now made by an all white and Republican county commission. Jose Segerra described how he and his elderly neighbors stood in line for hours to vote, only to have to come back the next day. And I told the story of how Georgia’s new voting law was rammed through the process without public input and through the use of legislative procedural tricks. If you’d like to watch the testimony click here. My opening statement is about 30 minutes in, but Sen. Warnock made his opening statement first, and he’s very much worth listening to if you have time! By the way, Sen. Warnock has been working very hard this week to bring the For the People Act to the Senate floor for a vote.
Sending the Georgia Legislature to Washington
After being introduced by Sen. Klobuchar, I looked the Senators in the eye and said, “We desperately need your help. Where you live shouldn’t determine how hard it is to vote. I implore you to pass national voting standards.” Next week I will take this message to the U.S. Capitol, where I, along with legislators from Georgia and other states that have passed restrictive voting laws, will lobby the U.S. Senators to pass the For the People Act.
Polling shows that this bill is supported by the majority of Americans. Even though Republicans are in the minority in the Senate, they are able to block popular bills using the filibuster. Long gone are the days when Senators would have to give voluminous speeches at the Senate well to filibuster a controversial bill. All it takes now is one Senator calling for a filibuster and the legislation automatically requires a Supermajority of 60 votes to pass. It has been overused and abused for too long and it means that any progress in the US Senate is now held hostage by minority rule.
What’s in the For the People Act and How will it Help Georgia?
Distribution of food/water to voters: There has been much talk about how the Georgia legislature made it illegal to give food or water to voters while waiting in line. The For the People Act prohibits states from restricting food and beverages at polling places, if done in a non-partisan manner.
Dropboxes: SB 202 limits dropboxes to one per 100,000 active registered voters, which drastically limits the number of dropboxes in the metro Atlanta area from what was available in 2020. The For the People Act requires one dropbox per every 45,000 registered voters during the 2022 and 2024 elections. Subsequently, the Act requires either one per 45,000 registered voters OR one for every 15,000 voters who cast a mail-ballot in the previous federal election (whichever is greater). Under the Act, dropboxes must also be available the first day mail ballots are sent to voters. Twenty-five percent of drop boxes in each jurisdiction must be accessible 24 hours per day. Finally, the Act requires that dropboxes be available to all voters in a non-discriminatory way, accessible to voters with disabilities and by public transportation as well as geographically distributed.
Mail Ballot Request Forms: SB 202 requires a Drivers’ License number, State ID number or a photocopy of an alternative ID for mail-in ballots. The For the People Act only requires a signature and/or identifying information such as date of birth. The Act requires on-line applications accessible for voters with disabilities. The Act also ensures states cannot prohibit the mailing of absentee ballot request forms to eligible voters by any person, including election officials.
The Actual Mail Ballot: SB 202 prohibits jurisdictions from sending out mail ballots until 29 days before Election Day. It also requires a Drivers’ License or State ID number, the last four digits of a Social Security number, or photocopy of an alternative ID. In addition, the date of birth must be written on the envelope under the flap. The voter must sign an affidavit stating no one observed them mark their ballot, and it criminalizes observing a voter mark a ballot. The For the People Act requires election officials to promptly send out mail ballots that have been requested at least 16 days before Election Day. The Act does not prevent states from requiring identification to return a ballot or prohibit states from criminalizing observing a voter marking a mail-in ballot.
State Takeover of Local Election Boards: SB 202 allows the State Elections Board to take over a local election board with a single administrator of their choice, following an investigation and hearing. The For the People Act includes protections for election officials and election workers from harassment, intimidation, and doxing, but not protections for removal by the state. There is another bill, the Preventing Election Subversion Act of 2021 introduced by Senators Warnock, Klobuchar, Merkley, Warner, and Ossoff that ensures that a statewide election official may only suspend, remove, or relieve a local election official for inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office.
Mass Voter Challenges: Under existing Georgia law, any single person can challenge the voter registration of an unlimited number of voters at once. A Texas-based group, True the Vote, challenged the eligibility of 360,000 Georgia voters for the 2021 Senate run-off, but the challenges resulted in only a few dozen ballots being disqualified. The For the People Act would prevent mass challenges by requiring challenges to be made based on “personal knowledge with respect to each individual challenged.” It also prohibits challenges made on the basis of age, race, ethnicity or national origin. It offers further protections by requiring a written statement under penalty of perjury that the challenge is made in good faith and by factual basis.
Provisional Ballots: SB 202 only allows out-of-precinct provisional ballots to be counted if they are cast between 5 – 7pm. The For the People Act ensures that all provisional ballots can be counted at the county-wide level at any time and would ensure all voters have access to same-day registration, which would allow people to update their registration if they have moved counties.
Early Voting: The For the People Act sets national standards for early voting, requiring at least 15 consecutive days (including at least two consecutive Saturdays and Sundays). It would ensure early voting is open for at least 10 hours a day, including on weekends. SB 202 sets a similar early voting schedule, but also caps the hours and days early voting can be offered, whereas the For the People Act only sets a minimum standard and allows localities to offer more than the minimum.
Shortened Runoff Period: SB 202 reduces the runoff period from nine weeks to 28 days. Since Georgia law requires voters to be registered at least 29 days before Election Day, this means there will be no opportunity to register to vote before the runoff. It also reduces the minimum early vote period for federal runoffs from three weeks to one week, which includes no weekend voting. The For the People Act requires an early voting period of at least 15 consecutive days, including two Saturdays and two Sundays, for ALL federal elections.
Ballot Collection: SB 202 makes it a felony to return a non-family member’s mail ballot. The For the People Act permits voters to designate any person to return a completed and sealed ballot. It prohibits states from limiting how many ballots one individual can return.
Now It’s Time to Flex YOUR Vocal Muscles — Be LOUD!
Next week I will be in Washington D.C. visiting with Senators and asking them to pass the For the People Act. I need your help?
Call our US Senators to urge them to push for filibuster reform and pass the For the People Act!
Senator Jon Ossoff: (470) 786-7800 or (202) 224-3521, Email https://www.ossoff.senate.gov/contact/contact-form/
Senator Raphael Warnock: (202) 224-3643, Email https://www.warnock.senate.gov/contact/
Inside story of SB202:
Full video of the US Senate Hearing in Atlanta:
Warnock works for a federal election bill:
Sally’s Senate Snapshot explaining SB202 in detail: