That’s the story Hillhouse wants to tell next week, when she will travel to Washington to lobby members of Congress to pass two voting reform measures. Hillhouse will be one of about 40 voters from around the country being brought to the nation’s capital by Fair Fight Action and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Fair Fight Action, founded by Stacey Abrams, a former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, last month launched “Hot Call Summer,” urging voters to phone members of Congress in support of the For the People Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, both of which passed the House but have stalled in the Senate.
Voting rights advocates have argued that federal legislation is necessary to counteract a wave of restrictive laws being adopted by Republican legislatures across the country. The new laws affect everything from limiting early voting and the use of mail-in ballots to giving legislatures the ability to take control of local election boards. Republican lawmakers and conservative activists have stepped up tightening access to the ballot since 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a core enforcement provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Efforts to restrict access to the ballot jumped into overdrive after President Donald Trump falsely claimed that he lost reelection because of massive voter fraud. Trump’s campaign lost dozens of court cases in his effort to overturn election results, and studies have consistently found no evidence of widespread voter fraud in U.S. elections. Last month, voting rights activists said the court further weakened the law when it upheld two Arizona voting restrictions, which Republicans claimed were aimed at preventing voter fraud, that a lower court said discriminated against minority voters. The Brennan Center for Justice, which has been tracking voting restrictions, reports that as of July, 18 states have enacted 30 laws that will make it harder to vote.
Voting rights activists and other liberal groups have sought to raise public awareness of the issue by holding protests in Washington. For the past few weeks, groups such as Black Voters Matter, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Black Women’s Roundtable, the NAACP, and the Poor People’s Campaign have staged nonviolent protests at House and Senate office buildings. Activists have been arrested for unlawful demonstrations, along with Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
“Our democracy is in crisis, and it is critical that members of Congress hear the stories of Americans who have been affected by anti-voter efforts,” Lauren Groh-Wargo, chief executive of Fair Fight Action, said in a statement. “The Republican Party is doing all it can to make it harder to vote, particularly for Black, Latinx and Native voters across the country. Congress has a constitutional duty to protect the right to vote for these voters and for all eligible Americans.”
The voters taking part in the action represent 13 states, including six that have enacted stricter voting laws, including Georgia, Arizona and New Hampshire. After a Tuesday morning news conference, they will meet with members of Congress. The Senate, which is split 50-50 between the two parties, has failed to advance the bills because they can’t clear the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster. The bills also have been stymied by Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), who have opposed ending the filibuster. On Tuesday, a group of Senate Democrats signaled that they were working on a revised measure that would include some suggestions proposed by Manchin, who has argued that the For the People Act, which calls for a broad variety of changes to voting as well as campaign financing, was too partisan.
Navin Nayak, president and executive director of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said many voters already struggle under an election system that forces them to stand in line for hours to cast a ballot, or be turned away because they don’t have a specific type of identification or mistakenly show up at the wrong polling place.
“Instead of fixing these problems, Republicans in virtually every state legislature in the country are erecting new barriers to voting — unleashing the worst attacks on our democracy in decades. These voters will remind Congress about the stakes and that inaction is not an option when our democracy is on the line,” Nayak said in a statement.
Hillhouse, a former Georgia resident, said lawmakers don’t appreciate how difficult it can be for some people to secure certain types of identification such as a government-issued photo ID.
“I don’t think these people understand what it means to have nothing, absolutely nothing. Getting a vital document for someone who can’t even secure a place to stay or get food is so beyond unreasonable,” she said. Even if getting a photo ID is free, it’s a struggle for people with little money and means of transportation to get the necessary documents such as a birth certificate. She also said information about when and where to vote is not readily accessible.
Hillhouse said that she connected with Fair Fight Action on social media and that she feels an obligation “to use my voice” to lobby for voting rights.
“I’ve been privileged,” Hillhouse said, adding that even she ran into some difficulties navigating the voting process when she lived in Georgia. “I’m less concerned about experiences I have had and way more concerned about what some states or some leaders of Congress consider to be reasonable voter expectations.”