Klobuchar: “Where you live and what your zip code is should not dictate whether or not you can vote.”
WASHINGTON – Today on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and member of the Judiciary Committee, honored the late Congressman John Lewis and called on her colleagues in Congress to pass legislation to protect voting rights.
“...it is so critical that Congress pass basic federal standards -- that’s the For the People Act -- to ensure all Americans can cast a ballot in a way that works best for them, that’s safe for them. Whether it is early voting, whether it's vote by mail, which so many Americans in red states and blue used across the country during the pandemic,” Klobuchar said.
“Where you live and what your zip code is should not dictate whether or not you can vote for President or U.S. Senate or Congress or governor or any election,” Klobuchar continued later in her speech.
She concluded: “In Congressman John Lewis’s words: ‘The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today, we must be vigilant in protecting that blessing.’”
Mr. President, I join in the wonderful words of my colleague from California, a true leader. Someone who had served as the election official, the Secretary of State, for the biggest state in our nation. He knows how important it is to count the votes and make sure we allow everyone to vote. And I come to the floor today to join him, to join Senator Leahy, and other of our colleagues to honor the legacy of Congressman John Lewis, and to continue his fight to make sure that every American can make their voice heard at the ballot box.
As my colleagues have mentioned, it’s been just over a year since John Lewis passed. I have always been in awe of him. This past week I had the opportunity to reflect on his monumental contributions to our nation when the Senate Rules Committee held a field hearing on voting rights in his home state of Georgia at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights—a place that commemorates the civil rights movement.
And today, as we celebrate his legacy, I am reminded of his persistence, his resilience, and his faith that this country could be better, if only we put in the work.
It was his faith in our country that led him to Selma, Alabama, where he helped lead 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge on that dark day that became known as Bloody Sunday. Several times, several years, including the last year, that he came to that bridge before he died, I was able to stand with him on the bridge in awe of everything he had done.
The horrific events of that day shocked the nation, with marchers attacked with clubs and tear gas. Congressman Lewis’s skull was fractured. He bore the scars until the very end of his life.
Soon after, President Lyndon Johnson came to the Capitol, and—as he said, “with the outrage of Selma still fresh”—urged Congress to guarantee the freedom to vote.
Months later, with the help of former Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.
One of the times I visited was, in fact, the 48th year anniversary of that march. That weekend, after 48 years, the police chief of Montgomery handed his badge to Congressman Lewis and apologized for not protecting him and the other Freedom Marchers.
48 years is a long time, and it only happened because Congressman Lewis never quit fighting for progress, for civil rights, for economic justice, and to defend the voting rights of every American.
But now—more than 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 and even died for is at stake.
Throughout our country’s 245-year history, we’ve had to course correct and take action to ensure that our democracy—for the people, by the people—actually lives up to its ideals. We all had that moment, that night after the insurrection, when this chamber, which we’re standing in, was taken over by those who did not believe in our election processes, in our democracy. And we not only came back, we came back to this chamber that night, but two weeks later we stood under a beautiful blue sky and declared, Democrats or Republicans or Independents, that we stood with our democracy. And as I said that day, that was the day our democracy stood up, brushed itself off, and that we went forward as one nation, under God, indivisible, with life and liberty for all.
That is why earlier this week -- believing that the job is not done especially when over 400 bills have been introduced across this country in nearly every state with 28 of them already signed into law, including an egregious example in Georgia -- that is why for the first time in two decades, we took the Senate Rules Committee on the road and held a field hearing in Atlanta to shine a spotlight on what is happening in Georgia and in states across the country to undermine the freedom to vote.
We heard from state legislators, a former election official who had lost her job after a change in law meant that local election officials were taken away from their post. And we heard from a voter, a veteran, who had stood in line for hours and hours just to cast his vote. And when I asked him, “When he signed up for the Air Force was there a waiting line?” He said, “No.”
Well there shouldn’t be a line to vote in the United State of America. That is why it is so critical that Congress pass basic federal standards -- that’s the For the People Act -- to ensure all Americans can cast a ballot in a way that works best for them, that’s safe for them. Whether it is early voting, whether it's vote by mail, which so many Americans in red states and blue used across the country during the pandemic and as we know the history of that in states like the Presiding Officer’s state of Colorado, or states like Utah, known as a red state, or states like Oregon, that has been the way they’ve been doing business safely for a long time. And many of us for the first time voted in that way, but there are other ways as well with drop off ballot boxes. Some people have not registered way early, because maybe they moved to a state -- as we know happens in the United States -- or maybe they are a young person at college or maybe they forgot to register and they have to catch up and do it. None of those reasons, those simple reasons that could happen to anyone in their everyday life, should be reasons to ban people from voting. And that’s why these basic federal standards are so important.
When we were in Georgia we heard from Helen Butler who I mentioned, a former local election official from rural Morgan County, who pointed out that it was only after Black voters increased their vote-by-mail numbers in the 2020 election that the Georgia legislature imposed new restrictions on mail-in ballots after all those years.
Georgia State Senator Sally Harrell also testified about how the bill was rushed through -- this restrictive voting bill -- through the Georgia legislature without meaningful debate. We heard about the provisions of the bill that basically say that non-partisan -- that’s already required and that’s correct -- non-partisan volunteers can’t even give voters water when they stand in line, despite the fact there were voters we heard from the day before, with Senator Merkely and Stacey Abrams, that those voters stood in line for three hours, for four hours, for seven hours.
We heard about the runoff changes. The runoff used to be nine weeks in Georgia, it was reduced to 28 days. And during the runoff period, you can’t vote under the new law on Saturdays and Sundays. You can vote that way during the general election. All of this, all of this, is done in the words of North Carolina, one of their judges many years ago in a decision who said, this law discriminates “with surgical precision.”
Literally going through ways that people voted, literally noticing that 70,000 new voters registered during the runoff and then banning that because you have to register now 29 days ahead when the time for the runoff is 28 days. How obvious can you get?
Where you live and what your zip code is should not dictate whether or not you can vote for President or U.S. Senate or Congress or governor or any election.
We owe it to these people, and to those across the country who stood in lines for hours in order to cast a ballot, to take action and protect the fundamental right to vote. I know a little bit about this because my state, Minnesota, nearly every single election has the highest voter turnout in the country. And guess what, we have elected Republican governors with those rules that allow for more people to vote and the highest voter turnout, we have elected Democratic governors, and we have elected Jesse Ventura.
What I have noticed, is not who wins, given that we’re one of the only states in the country that has one state house that's Republican, one state house that’s Democratic, given that our Congressional delegation in the House is split evenly, changed over time. It’s not really who wins. It’s how people feel about elections. They are part of the franchise we call democracy. So they will come up to me and say “You know I didn’t vote for you but whatever, you’re doing okay” or “I have this concern,” but they feel like they’re part of the action. That's what our goal should be: to have all Americans feel like they’re part of the action.
We must meet this moment. As President Biden said in Philadelphia last week, this is the “test of our time.” So what do we do?
Well, first, we must pass the For the People Act, which Senators Schumer and Merkley and I introduced along with many others to ensure that all Americans can cast their ballots. It’s nothing radical. You know why it's not radical? It is firmly based in the Constitution. The basic voting rights, the Constitution literally says that Congress can “make or alter” the rules in the manner in which federal elections occur. That’s never been questioned. It's been affirmed time and time again.
The other bill, the bill we’re focused on today, Congressman Lewis’s bill, and that is the Voting Rights Act. And you restore the Voting Rights Act after a Supreme Court decision struck down part of that bill, I didn’t agree with it, I agreed with then Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent, but you fix it with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. It is now Congress’s responsibility, the Supreme Court decision made that clear, to restore and modernize the Voting Rights Act and provide the federal government with the necessary tools to combat the assault on Americans’ right to vote.
We must recommit to the original goal of the Voting Rights Act: to end discrimination in voting in America.
We know this is something historically, until recent years, that brought everyone together.
The Senate reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 1982 by a vote of 85-8, including 43 Republicans; in 1992 by a vote of 75-20, including 25 Republicans; and in 2006, in 2006, with a unanimous 98-0 vote, including 51 Republicans. And I don’t think anyone with a straight face can say, “Well, the reason we don’t need to do this anymore is that we don’t have any discriminatory laws being enacted on the state basis,” or “There aren’t any laws being enacted that limits voting.” Truly, maybe you should read some of the court decisions if you think that. I would say there is a stronger argument to do this, both sides of the aisle.
John Lewis’s bill, so important, and it isn’t a substitute for passing the For the People bill, but we must do that as well as include election infrastructure funding in the reconciliation bill, which I believe will be coming our way soon.
I’ll end with this. Last Sunday, I had the privilege of attending services at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where I got to hear Reverend Warnock, who was a guest preacher, but for me it was like he was also preaching, and I got to hear him say something I will never forget.
He said this: “a vote is a prayer. A vote is a prayer, it’s a prayer for a better world, it's a prayer for your kids’ education, a prayer that you’re finally going to be able to do something about the world’s environment.”
So during the last election, we saw an unprecedented number of people go to the polls to do just that. Not every one of their candidates won, but they believed enough in our democracy in the middle of a public health crisis, that they went and cast their vote.
In Congressman John Lewis’s words: “The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today, we must be vigilant in protecting that blessing.”
Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
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