ATLANTA — Senate Democrats took their campaign for far-reaching federal voting rights legislation on the road to Georgia on Monday, convening a rare hearing in a state at the center of a national fight over elections.
At a field hearing in Atlanta, lawmakers and voters decried the restrictive new voting law signed this spring by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, as an attempt to disenfranchise Black and young voters and consolidate Republicans tenuous grip on power.
“There is much talk about not being able to give food and water to voters on line, but the actual law is much more abhorrent than that,” said Representative Billy Mitchell, the chairman of the Georgia House Democratic caucus. “What I am most concerned about — and hope you come up with a solution for — is cheating umpires that these laws are creating.”
But the hearing’s real aim is to sway a debate more than 500 miles away in Washington, where Democrats are trying to revive a stalled elections overhaul in the Senate to make it easier to vote and offset many of the changes Republicans have pushed through in states like Georgia.
“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 fighting for,” Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and the chairwoman of the Rules Committee, which is convening the session, said in an interview.
An initial attempt by Democrats to debate their overhaul, the For the People Act, failed in the Senate last month in the face of unified Republican opposition. Now, Democrats are trying to retool, but it is unclear if their chances of success will improve as long as key moderate senators refuse to alter the Senate’s filibuster rule, which in effect gives Republicans veto power over their agenda.
Party leaders are working with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, the most outspoken Democratic opponent of the measure, to draft a narrower compromise bill, which could come up for another vote in August or the fall. They are also readying additional legislation, named after the late civil rights icon John Lewis of Georgia, to strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That, too, could come to a vote in the fall.
Given the likelihood that both those efforts would fall amid Republican opposition, Democrats have begun work to try to include more modest voting rights measures in the party’s $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, which they are working to muscle through the Senate on a simple majority vote.
The hearing at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights here is the first time in two decades the Rules Committee has convened outside the Capitol. Ms. Klobuchar has said additional field hearings will follow.
Among the witnesses are Sally Harrell, a Democratic state senator from suburban Atlanta; Helen Butler, the executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda; and José Segarra, a voter from south-central Georgia. Senator Raphael Warnock, whose improbable victory in a runoff election here in January delivered control of the Senate to Democrats, also addressed the panel.
Republicans on the Rules Committee, who have fought to stymie Democrats’ election overhaul in the Senate, did not attend the hearing.
“This silly stunt is based on the same lie as all the Democrats’ phony hysteria from Georgia to Texas to Washington, D.C., and beyond — their efforts to pretend that moderate, mainstream state voting laws with more generous early voting provisions than blue states like New York are some kind of evil assault on our democracy,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, said in a statement.