KLOBUCHAR: “Congressman John Lewis called voting the most powerful non-violent tool we have to create a more perfect union. And that’s how I see it.”
WASHINGTON – At today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law, emphasized the urgent need to pass this legislation to restore and build on key portions of the Voting Rights Act.
During her questioning, she noted the importance of eliminating barriers to voting to strengthen our democracy, quoting the late Congressman John Lewis:
“Congressman John Lewis called voting the most powerful non-violent tool we have to create a more perfect union. And that’s how I see it. I have a state that has the highest voter turnout in nearly every single election, including the last one…people feel like they’re part of the franchise and that we’re making it easier for them to vote.”
As Chairwoman of the Rules Committee, Klobuchar has been a leading advocate for protecting the right to vote and increasing access to the electoral process.
Last month, she and seven of her Democratic colleagues introduced the Freedom to Vote Act to set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them.
In July, Klobuchar chaired the first Rules Committee field hearing in 20 years which spotlighted the unprecedented attack on voting rights in Georgia. At the hearing, voters and election officials testified about how legislation recently passed in the state imposes identification requirements for absentee voters, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, and makes it a crime for volunteers to offer voters food and water to voters waiting in line.
Senator Klobuchar: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much for being here today, Ms. Clarke. I just want to get some basic facts here. In the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the majority vote that when Congress establishes a process for pre-clearance, it must do so in a way--and this is the court decision--that makes sense in light of current conditions, it can not rely simply on the past. How do the updates to the Voting Rights Act in the John Lewis Bill respond to the Supreme Court’s critique, and do you agree that it’s relevant to our evaluation of current conditions that this year alone, over 400 bills have been introduced across the country to roll back voting rights and at least 31 of them have been signed into law?
Ms. Clarke: Thank you, Senator, and so the bill does a number of things. It tethers the preclearance formula to current conditions, which as you know is the instruction from the Supreme Court in the Shelby ruling. And I also deem these hearings that Congress has been conducting since at least 2019 to be important, because they’ve provided an opportunity for Congress to hear about those current conditions on the ground across the country. The bill also provides stronger protections for Native American and Alaskan native voters, which is important, and does a number of other things, including clarifying the standards to be applied in section to vote denial cases and more.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much. And do you agree, and I know you’re familiar with the Freedom to Vote Act, and we know the John Lewis Bill--let me just step back--will stop states with a history of racial discrimination from rolling back voting rights in the future. It would also counteract some of the laws that states have already passed to renew provision in Section 2 that would apply to changes in voting laws made this year, but do you agree that in order to protect Americans’ right to vote, Congress must pass both the John Lewis Bill and the Freedom to Vote Act? Which, as you know, is a negotiation Senator Manchin and myself, and Senator Padilla on this committee, Senator Warnock, Senator Merkley, Senator Kaine, and King, and Senator Schumer put together.
Ms. Clarke: Thank you, Senator. The department is here to speak to the importance of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act today, and welcomes the opportunity to work with Congress on other ways and other bills that might strengthen voting rights in our country.
Sen. Klobuchar: Alright, I was listening to Senator Lee’s questions, and it made me think of my own real world experience here going down to Georgia. I took the Rules Committee, which I chair, to Georgia for a field hearing, our first one in decades, about its new voting law, which includes egregious provisions, which is why major companies have come out against it. Like reducing the number and availability of ballot dropboxes, putting new limits on early voting, allowing politicians to fire local election officials, changing the time of the run-off to 28 days and then not allowing for any weekend voting during that time period, making voters put their birthdate on the outside of the envelope that's an internal envelope instead of the day they cast the ballot which is meant to sow confusion, not allowing for registration during the runoff period. What is the impact of the laws like the one in Georgia on voter participation, especially among voters of color in both urban and rural areas?
Ms. Clarke: Well, Senator, the department has pending litigation against the state of Georgia and so I can’t comment on pending litigation, but what I can say is that the case-by-case work that the department has been engaged in has not been an adequate substitute for the important work that we’ve been able to do when we had Section 5 in place blocking thousands of discriminatory voting changes from ever taking root in the country.
Sen. Klobuchar: Very good. Finally, Congressman John Lewis called voting the most powerful non-violent tool we have to create a more perfect union. And that’s how I see it. I have a state that has the highest voter turnout in nearly every single election, including the last one. And honestly, Mr. Chairman, with voting laws that allow things like same day voter registration, we have elected Democratic governors, like our governor, Tim Walz, Republican governors like Tim Pawlenty, and independent governors, like Jesse Ventura. I just see the difference as not what party gets elected. The change is that people feel like they’re part of the franchise and that we’re making it easier for them to vote. Why is it important, Ms. Clarke, to strengthen and restore the Voting Rights Act, particularly after several Supreme Court decisions have rolled back the Justice Department’s ability to enforce the law’s protection?
Ms. Clarke: Senator, the right to vote is one of the most important civil rights in our country. It is the right from which other civil rights are derived, and it speaks to principles that lie at the heart of our constitution. And we know that the Constitution vests this body with broad powers under the 14th and 15th Amendment to ensure that our elections are free from racial discrimination, and we welcome this opportunity to work with you and other members of the committee to achieve that goal.
Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much.
# # #