The Hill's Steve Clemons interview Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Read excerpts from the interview below.
Clemons: Why are you pursuing mail-in voting and how is that a function of these times we’re in?
Klobuchar: Well, people shouldn't have to choose, Steve, between their health and whether they can vote. I remember getting a letter from a Vietnam vet and he said, “You know, I served our country and I have a preexisting condition. And how can our country say that I can't vote.” Because basically, the state that he was in had some pretty draconian requirements to get a mail-in ballot. State by state by state, a lot of these requirements are getting waved even by Republican governors and secretaries of state. But we still have a situation where it is so hard for states to make these changes right now. Why? Well, traditionally, only 25 percent of Americans voted from home, voted by mail, now we're gonna look at 60-70 percent. And we want to get that high because it's safer. And that means postage. It means envelopes. It means a whole new structure. Just to give you a sense, in the state of New York originally, in the last few federal elections, only 5 percent of people voted by mail. Then you have a state like Oregon or Utah or Colorado, which is nearly 100 percent. So, there's a lot of differences, and the states that are nearly 100 percent have been doing it for a long time. So, my focus is helping states to get where they need to go, so no one gets denied the right to vote, and that means keeping ballot places open earlier. You know, 20 days is what our bill says and then training a new generation of poll workers, since so many of our seniors are the ones that have been traditionally staffing the polls, and then finally getting help financially with what you need with the mail-in ballots and the like. And that's in the HEROES Act in the House, my bill. And we wanted to come over and pass in the Senate, it’s a bill I worked on with Ron Wyden. And we have so many co-sponsors, support of Michelle Obama's groups, support of Voto Latino and really support, at least for the funding piece of it, from Republican governors and secretaries of states all across the country.
Clemons: States oversee their voting rules and their voting frames and methodology and polling places. How does this work with so many different systems, such as states, DC and territories?
Klobuchar: You know there is some virtue to the fact that states run their own elections. I mean, they’re gonna be doing it on the ground. But what we're trying to do here is put some minimal standards in. Just have the polls open for 20 days ahead, you can go more if you want. Train the workers, make sure that you don't have egregious requirements in place. When we started on this journey with the pandemic, 12 states had requirements for witnesses or notaries. Six of them had either two witnesses or a notary just to get a mail-in ballot. There is a story of someone with coronavirus in a hospital that was trying to get a primary ballot notarized through glass. That's crazy. And a number of governors have waived those. Some legislators have changed the rules, but there's still three states that have those kinds of things in place. So that's just one example of why a bill would fix it, because we could just put minimum national standards in place. The big focus right now as well, of course, is on the funding. And yesterday, while Sen. Blunt objected to my bill, he's the chairman of the rules committee. I'm the ranking member. He cordially, I would say, said that he wants to work on the funding, so that gives me a lot of hope that they will be able to get some funding in this next package so the money can go immediately to the states to help them to defray the cost of this. Otherwise, I mean, imagine changing the whole election system as we're trying to do in just six months. It's really tough. And that's why you saw those voters standing, Steve, in line in Wisconsin with garbage bags and homemade masks. And then, if you look at the split screen, you'd have the president of the United States voting in the comfort of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but with his mail-in ballot from Palm Beach, Fla.
Clemons: Is Sen. Roy Blunt in favor of what you're suggesting?
Klobuchar: So, he blocked the bill. He's not in favor of putting the standards in place, which I think would be such a good idea for the nation. But he has said many times publicly in his own state and on the Senate floor yesterday that he is very open to discussing further funding. We had already gotten $400 million over that in the first CARES Act. There's some problems with strings that some of the Republicans attached to it that I think we also need to fix. And many senators have expressed an interest in that. Some of the states have gotten the money, some have applied. Everyone wants the money, but the idea is to make this work smoothly. Get the money out immediately, and he is open to additional funding. If another package is being negotiated, which I think must happen. As you know, that bill passed the House. It's got $3.6 billion to help states with elections. States are facing bankruptcy. They don't have enough money to pay for this major transition in six months, and so that's what we're talking about here in the Senate. What amount of money? How do we negotiate this?
Clemons: Why do you think President Trump is so fixated on blocking what you're trying to do?
Klobuchar: He said it himself. I would love to break news on your show that I had some special thing, but he has said that the vote by mail is going to hurt him in his election. So, what does he do, which is his typical playbook? He then claims that it's fraudulent to scare people in a blatant effort to suppress the vote. He says it is fraudulent, yet if you look at a state like Oregon, which is nearly 100 percent vote by mail, by the way you want polling places open, let me make this clear. You need ample polling places. You don't want people to have to drive an hour to get to a polling place and so it’s got to be part of the equation as well. Not everyone's gonna vote by mail, but in that state that has so many people voting by mail, the fraud rate is like 0.0000001 percent or something like that. It's crazy. And he is just saying this to scare people, to try to stop this way of voting that we know is the safest way of voting. And I just think people are on to him, and he's blatantly told us why he's doing it. He thinks he'll lose if people vote.
Clemons: Does what you're proposing deal with foreign meddling in our election system at all? Are we in better shape or worse shape regarding others meddling with our results? Or is this just a completely different arena and not relevant?
Klobuchar: Well, there is some of this because you're still gonna have a bunch of people voting on Election Day and in the days leading up to it. So, you still want to have the right equipment and you still want to have the coordination with Homeland Security. You've still got the issue, which I'm not going to get into right now,but, you know, is huge propaganda — social media lies and paid ads and the like, where we haven't seen a lot of things fixed. But the great virtue of the mail-in ballots is you'll have a paper ballot, and what we were pushing for is backup paper ballots when people use voting machines and there's still states like New Jersey that don't have them. But what we do have now with more and more people voting by mail, that's harder to have, of course, because you're gonna have an individual signing a ballot.
Clemons: Do you think we have to change our expectations about when we get voting results?
Klobuchar: Yes. I mean, as we know it is going to take a while to open up all these envelopes and look at this in that way. And I think we just saw that in the primary. That's going to be a change in that. For some races you're going to know the results and others you're gonna have to wait a while, and it's gonna change things.
Clemons: How do you deal with late ballots because our postal system is not perfect?
Klobuchar: And a number of states and our bill would actually say as long as it's postmarked by election day that it's OK. So, of course you're gonna get those after the fact. You can’t count them that night, and I would also add we've got to make sure the Postal Service is working and has the funding it needs to be able to do this. So, it's just going to change a lot of things. But it's gonna not change one thing, and that is, Americans should have the right to vote. This is a democracy and there's absolutely no doubt about it. I'm actually pleased that there are Republican governors, Republican secretary of states all over the country that are basically standing up to him. Maybe they're not using the words, but they're saying, “I've gotta let my citizens vote safely, I have to let my veterans vote, I have to let my seniors vote.” They get it, and otherwise we no longer have a democracy, we have a dictatorship. And so the whole country is gonna have to stand up, and this should be a major part of our efforts. I was watching, and in the next few weeks, we're gonna have discussions and negotiations and hopefully get some version of the HEROES Act done in the U.S. Senate. So, it's very important that it includes the election money.
Clemons: Is there a way to begin thinking about voting digitally?
Klobuchar: I think the general belief of the secretary of states across the country is we don't want to be messing with that right now just because of the hacking potential. And, we just don't believe there's a secure way to do that.
Clemons: Would you ever be interested in seeking the presidency down the road?
Klobuchar: I am focused right now on one thing, politically, and that is making sure Joe Biden gets elected. And he will bring competence to the White House, vast experience and knowing how to manage things like he did with Ebola, with that pandemic, like he has with getting things done. And so that's my focus. And he's also going to bring compassion, decency to the White House. So many families, as you pointed out with the beginning of this interview, have been hit by this pandemic. So many of them haven't been able to say goodbye. So many of them, like I did this weekend with my dad, who’s 92 and has [coronavirus] but is somehow still strong. I had to talk to him through a glass window. He couldn't really hear me. I did it over the phone, and that is what's going on in this country right now. Everyone as you said, knows someone that's been hit and you've got a president in the White House that not only didn't prepare us for it, not only didn't get the equipment moving like he should have, not only didn't get the testing, but then shows this complete lack of compassion for people that have been hit by this. And also, of course, for people that have been so incredibly moved for change and justice after the George Floyd murder in my state. There's a lot going on right now in people's heads, and they want to see a decent leader that helps to guide them through this. That is not Donald Trump. That is Joe Biden.