KLOBUCHAR: “The need for action could not be more serious…We cannot wait another moment.”
KLOBUCHAR: “We owe it to ourselves and future generations of Americans to ensure that our democracy is protected.”
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 campaign finance law, delivered a floor speech on the urgent need to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of their zip code.
Klobuchar highlighted the urgency to pass this legislation, noting: “The need for action could not be more serious…With state legislatures beginning to convene for their 2022 legislative sessions this week, with plans to pass more bills that will restrict voting… we cannot wait another moment.”
Emphasizing that the American people “want to be able to vote in the safest way possible that works for them,” Klobuchar concluded: “Throughout our country's 245-year history we've had to course correct to ensure that our democracy, for the people, by the people, always lived up to our ideals…We owe it to ourselves and future generations of Americans to ensure that our democracy is protected.”
Mr. President, I come to the floor today to speak in support of legislation that is critical to our democracy, the Freedom to Vote Act, which I introduced this year with many senators who worked together through the summer to come up with a bill that would make a difference for our country, with input from Secretary of State across our country, election experts, in order to give the people of this country the right to vote, to protect the right to vote, and to make sure that they understood that they can vote anywhere, from any zip code in a safe way.
Because right now, sadly, Mr. President, that is simply not the case in many states in our country. If you're in South Carolina right now and you want to cast a mail-in ballot, and you have COVID or you're in the hospital, you have to get a witness to sign off on your ballot. Or if you're in Georgia and you don't register, you're a new resident there, you moved there from another state, and you're in a big election and you think “I'm going to vote in the final place,” you're no longer allowed to register in the last month as you were in the past during the runoff election. Or, as we saw in the last election in 2020, in Houston, in that county, five million people, there was only one dropoff box in the entire county. Here's a county with five million people, only one dropoff box. There are places in states where you wait in line eight, ten hours in the hot sun just to exercise your right to vote. And that is why, through the year we worked together, Senators – of course Leader Schumer who brought us together – and Senators Manchin, Merkley, Padilla, King, Kaine, Tester, and Warnock, different senators coming from different parts of the country with different political views on certain issues, but we came together and cosponsored this bill which is supported by every member of the Democratic Caucus.
I want to thank all of them for their ongoing hard work to get the bill passed and also to thank Senators Schumer, Durbin, Kaine, and Merkley for joining me on the floor today in support of this bill. The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms, which is why we called it the Freedom to Vote Act. It ensures people are part of a franchise and that government is accountable to the people. But today this fundamental right that is the very foundation of our system of government is under attack. Since the 2020 election, we have seen a persistent and coordinated assault on the freedom to vote in states across the country. I just viewed a few examples of the laws that have changed, the attempts that have been made in nearly every state with over 400 bills to change those laws. But then there have been direct threats. Local election officials, many Secretary of State have told me that they're having trouble now recruiting people to run their election day and election month facilities. Why? Because there's threats. There have been polls and studies that have shown that election officials in inordinate numbers are the victims of these threats. One Republican commissioner in Philadelphia, election commissioner who recently left his job, they actually put his family's names – young kids' names, a picture of his house, his address – on the internet so that people could target his very family. The e-mails, the voice messages left, the one left for Katie Hobbs, the Secretary of State of Arizona: “We will hunt you down, Katie. We'll hunt you down.”
These attacks on our local election officials and also members of Congress of both parties are record number, 9,600 in the last year, which is double or triple what it has ever been. You cannot look at the incidents of January 6th, on that insurrection, on its own. These threats of violence have continued into the year, and why is that? Well, we know there is this enormous lack of trust right now in the election system. We know that people have wrongly been told, have been given misinformation, have been motivated, as we saw as those people marched on the mall on January 6th, to believe that somehow our democracy and our voting system is a fraud. Now we know that's not right because we hear it from Republican and Democratic local officials all the time. President Trump's own Homeland Security election head, after the last election said it was the most secure in the history of America. That was President Trump's appointee. Former Attorney General Barr made it very clear that there was not widespread fraud in the last election of any kind, but yet this lie continues, and people sadly continue to believe it.
And what is the most sad is that elected leaders in states, a number of states -- not just one or two -- multiple states are passing laws with the false tenet of fraud and literally taking away people's right to vote, kicking them off of voting rolls. People who for years have gone to one polling location who now can't figure out where they're supposed to vote. People in Georgia who suddenly have been told after the last election did it differently, that they have to write their birthday on the outside of an envelope. Anyone that's asked to write a date on an envelope for a ballot, one would assume it's the date that you are putting your ballot in the mail. But, no, it's your birthday. That's the kind of thing we're seeing across the country. As one court in North Carolina once said about previous efforts to suppress the law, it is discrimination with “surgical precision,” state by state by state.
These attacks on our democracy demand a federal response. Just as we saw in the 1960s with civil rights legislation, at some point the federal government had to step in. And in fact, our own Founding Fathers actually anticipated that this might be necessary, because right in the Constitution it says that Congress can “make or alter the laws regarding federal elections,” as clear as can be. “Make or alter the laws regarding federal elections.” So what we're talking about here, with some minimum standards in place for how you do early voting, for the fact that you can register, for the fact that you can have drop off boxes: “make or alter the rules for federal elections.” When you have states, certain states, messing around to the extent that they are with the clear intent that they have, this is the moment that we look to the Constitution for guidance, and it is right there.
And this is why the need for action could not be more serious. And this is why, as Leader Schumer has announced, we will be moving to advance the Freedom to Vote Act next week. With state legislatures beginning to convene for their 2022 legislative sessions this week, with plans to pass more bills that will restrict voting, and with primaries for the 2022 election just around the corner, we cannot wait another moment.
Yesterday we gathered in this chamber to mark one year since the violent mob of insurrectionists stormed into this Capitol. I can see everything like it was in technicolor. When we came back into this chamber. The desks, everyone looking in their desks to see if anything had been taken. The videos we saw which only a few hours before people had invaded this chamber, and the walk that Senator Blunt and the Vice President and I took through the broken glass, spray painted statue with the young staff members with the mahogany boxes containing the last of the electoral ballots. And as I said two weeks later at the inauguration, “This is the moment when our democracy brushes itself off, stands straight, moves forward, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty, and justice for all.”
You just said that pledge, Mr. President, in this very chamber. The pages said that pledge in this very chamber. To me, those are not just empty words. They are a pledge that we must keep.
Election officials, as I note, across the country have been targeted by an overwhelming increase in the number of threats. We cannot keep that pledge for liberty and justice for all in a democracy if we can't have fair elections and literally people who are just doing their jobs, whether in this building or out in Mississippi, or out in Pennsylvania, or in Arizona, get threatened just for counting votes. We actually even heard from the Republican Kentucky Secretary of State recently in a hearing that Senator Blunt and I had about how difficult it is to fill those jobs.
So in light of all of this, let's talk some basics about what the Freedom to Vote Act does. It strengthens protections for federal workers by making it a federal crime to intimidate election workers. It protects election officials from improper removal by partisan actors. It puts a standard in place so you can't just throw them out because you don't like what the results were, what the votes were that they counted. It establishes a statutory right to vote to have their votes counted. And it protects against sham audits like the one we saw in Arizona and the ones being advanced in Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, and Pennsylvania. It's worth noting that even though these so-called audits aren't using reliable methods, in Arizona the sham audit actually found President Biden had a larger margin of victory and the first round in Texas found nothing that could have changed the outcome in the election.
A few weeks ago we gathered for the funeral for a great man who served many years in this chamber, Senator Dole. And President Biden reminded us of something he had once said when the debates in this chamber – when there were actual debates – were raging about civil rights legislation. And Bob Dole said this: “No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens.”
No first-class democracy can treat people like second-class citizens. We are a first class democracy. And yet, as I note, 19 states have passed 34 bills that include provisions to restrict voting and state legislatures are looking at even more. The need for federal action is urgent. But as we have seen in states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Montana, and Texas, we're up against a coordinated attack aimed at limiting the freedom to vote.
Example – I've used a few already, I'm going to keep using them throughout the weeks ahead. The new law in Georgia shortens runoffs by five weeks and prevents new voters from registering to vote during runoff elections. In Iowa, a new law cut the days of early voting by nine days and closes the polls an hour early. That was after the state, in the words of its own Republican Secretary of State, shattered its voter turnout record last year. If that shattered the voter turnout record, to have an hour extra, why then take the hour away?
A new law in Montana says you can no longer register to vote on Election Day. Yet, that same-day registration – I know because my state is proud of our same-day registration, we have the highest voter turnout nearly every election – 15 years that was in place in Montana. Fifteen years. Don't tell me it was some new thing they weren't used to. Fifteen years. And as part of this coordinated, national attack on voting they took it away.
In 2020, the Texas Governor limited counties, including Harris County, which has as many people as nearly my entire state, to that one ballot dropoff box. We cannot hold free and fair elections with laws and procedures like these. And yes, there is the issue, the horrendous issue, of messing around with how the votes are counted, getting rid of the nonpartisan boards, and allowing partisan legislatures to count, and sham audits. All of that is covered by our bill, and it is a big problem. But if you rig the elections before the votes are even counted by making it impossible for certain people to vote, in the words of our great colleague, Reverend Warnock, “some people don't want some people to vote,” does it even matter if you count them if they're not allowed to vote in the first place?
That's why Americans need the Freedom to Vote Act, which builds on the framework put forward by my colleague and former West Virginia Secretary of State, Senator Manchin, last summer. As I note, it reflected the work, hard work, of many, many senators, including ones in this room today, the Senator from Oregon, Senator Merkley; Senator from Virginia, Senator Kaine. We can't just sit back and allow for five weeks to be cut from the Georgia runoff period, during which over 1.3 million people voted in 2021. Or allow for beam to be prevented from registering to vote for runoff elections when nearly 70,000 Georgians registered to vote during that time. Protecting elections against subversion also won't bring back same-day registration on election day in Montana, unless we do the work from the beginning, on which nearly 8,200 Montanans use in 2020 to register or update their registration. That's a lot of people in Montana. It won't ensure that over 60 million registered voters in Texas have access to drop boxes. It's simply not enough to just focus on counting the votes if you want to protect things that matter to people.
The best of the best is what the American people want. They want to be able to vote in the safest way possible that works for them. One poll found that 78 percent of Americans, including 63 percent of Republicans, this is from April, 2021 Pew, support making early in-person voting available for at least two weeks before election day. That's exactly what this bill does. Sixty-eight percent of Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans, support making election day a national holiday. Pew poll, April 2021. That's what this bill does. Sixty-one percent of Americans support automatic voter registration, Pew, April 2021. That's what this bill does. Where if you go in to get your driver license, huh? Why would you have to then give the state, when the state has all of your information, would you have to go in and register again?
While Senate Republicans claim that this bill is unpopular, there are people in their own party, time and time again, who have supported these provisions. How about, for instance, Utah, where nearly the entire state is mail-in balloting? But yet in other states, like I mentioned in South Carolina, you can't cast your mail-in ballot without getting a witness signature? That's why the Constitution says that for federal elections, that Congress can make or alter the rules regarding federal elections.
For decades we know voting rights has been a bipartisan issue. In 2006, the Voting Rights Act – I know Senator Durbin, the author of this bill, who has worked so hard on this – was reauthorized, the Voting Rights Act, was reauthorized by a vote of 98-0. But right now, when we look at changes to the Voting Rights Act in response to a court case out of the Supreme Court – it's so necessary to update that bill right now – only one Republican, Senator Murkowski of Alaska, voted to even advance that bill to allow for debate. Only one was willing to debate it.
Let's be clear -- when Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution empowers Congress to make our alter rules for federal elections at any time, at any time, I believe it's in there for a reason. I don't think they just put that in there for, oh, let's throw this in, you know, very few words of a Constitution for the greatest democracy the world has ever known. No. It was in there for a reason. This is the reason.
We get to one more thing, then I'll turn it over to my colleagues, and that is the need to look at the Senate rules for voting. So, I would argue that maybe the people in this country, the hundreds of millions of the people of this country, that their voting rules might be just a little, tiny bit more important than our voting rules in this chamber. But nevertheless, acknowledging that, our voting rules have changed many, many times. Since the beginning of the Senate, the rules governing debate have changed multiple times. Throughout history there have been over 160 exceptions to the 60-vote cloture, including nominees, reconciliation, disapproval of arms sales, even the number of votes needed to end debate has changed.
I am very interested in making this place work. I don't think people would spend all this time getting elected just to come here and stop bills from happening, and then go home. But that's pretty much what's going on right now in this chamber. I look at those pages. I think about how they came here to watch these grand debates and we’re supposed to be the greatest deliberative body of all time. Instead, we basically have an empty room. This is the moment to protect voting rights, and yes, we acknowledge to do it, because sadly we don't have the bipartisan support we've had in the past for voting rights and for protecting people's rights. We have to do it this way. And there is nothing magical about the rules as they are now. If there were, there wouldn't be 160 exceptions, and they wouldn't have been changed multiple times.
I'll end with this: protecting the freedom to vote has never been easy. Throughout our country's 245-year history we've had to course correct to ensure that our democracy, for the people, by the people, always lived up to our ideals. Last year, when speaking in Philadelphia, President Biden called the fight to protect voting rights “the test of our time.” We owe it to ourselves and future generations of Americans to ensure that our democracy is protected.
With that, I thank you, Mr. President, and I turn it over to my colleagues. Thank you. I yield the floor.
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