The Freedom to Vote Act will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in
This legislation was developed by the voting rights working group convened by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and including Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA)
WASHINGTON – Today on the Senate Floor, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law, led her colleagues in a series of floor speeches about 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 what zip code they live in.
“With over 400 bills introduced in nearly every state to limit the freedom to vote, we can’t simply sit back and watch our democracy be threatened again. Whether it is threatened with bear spray and crowbars and axes or long lines, or the elimination of ballot boxes, or secret money, it is still under siege. When we are faced with a coordinated effort across the country to limit the freedom to vote, we must stand up and do what is right,” Klobuchar said.
Mr. President, I come to the floor to speak in support of very important new legislation -- the Freedom to Vote Act -- that I introduced yesterday with the members of the voting rights working group assembled by Leader Schumer, which includes Senator Manchin; Senator Merkley, who’s here with us today on the floor, who’s been such a leader on voting issues, including the For the People Act; Senator Padilla; Senators King, Kaine, Tester, and Warnock.
The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before in the middle of a public health crisis, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country. These attacks demand an immediate federal response.
The Freedom to Vote Act will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in.
I want to thank Senator Schumer for his leadership in pulling together our working group that got this legislation across the finish line, and as I mentioned, Senators Merkley and Manchin for their work on this crucial bill.
It has been over eight months since that violent mob of insurrectionists stormed through this very spot and desecrated our Capitol -- the temple of our democracy. They opened the desks in this chamber. They got up and sat at that desk where you are sitting now, Mr. President. It was an attack on our Republic.
And as I said from the inaugural stage just two weeks later under that beautiful blue sky at the very place where you could still see the spray paint at the bottom of the columns and the makeshift windows behind us: “This is the day our democracy picks itself up, brushes off the dust, and does what America always does: goes forward as a nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We took back our democracy that day -- Democrats, Republicans, Independents, all sitting at that platform seeing a new president and vice president be inaugurated. We took back our democracy that day, and we will take it back this day with this new bill. With the support of 78 percent of Americans who favor two weeks of early voting, a very important provision in this bill, and 83 percent of voters who support public disclosures of all contributions -- we will take it back again from those who are trying to take away people’s constitutional right to vote.
With over 400 bills introduced in nearly every state to limit the freedom to vote, we can’t simply sit back and watch our democracy be threatened again. Whether it is threatened with bear spray and crowbars and axes or long lines, or the elimination of ballot boxes, or secret money, it is still under siege. When we are faced with a coordinated effort across the country to limit the freedom to vote, we must stand up and do what is right.
Sometimes people say, “What is going on? It worked so well during the pandemic, during a public health crisis, more people voted than ever before.” Well, that is because they voted by mail. That is because some states – both blue states and red states – changed their laws to make it easier to vote while still protecting the sanctity of the vote.
So why is this happening? Well, I think our colleague Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock put it best when he said: “Some people don’t want some people to vote.” We will not stand for that, because that is not how a democracy works.
Leader Schumer has said he will bring this new bill to a vote as soon as next week because we know our democracy cannot wait.
This bill builds on the framework put forward by Senator Manchin in June and includes many of the key reforms in the For the People Act guaranteeing all Americans, as I noted, access to at least 15 days of early voting, including weekends.
Look at what just happened in Georgia. We just had a field hearing down there with the Rules Committee. In Georgia, all of a sudden they passed a law that said, yeah, you can vote on weekends early on, but when it counts in a runoff period in those last 28 days, you can’t vote on weekends anymore. That’s only done for one reason: to make it harder for people to vote.
That’s why this bill is so important. What else does it do?
Ensuring all voters can cast a mail-in ballot and make it easier to register to vote. That is pretty important, as we see Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters all across this country wanting to be able to cast mail-in ballots. Safest way for so many of them to vote, even today. Some states even require them to get a notary signature, in the middle of a pandemic, through a glass window, when they’re in the hospital. You wonder why we want to have some federal minimum standards in place.
What else? Increased transparency through the DISCLOSE Act. I already noted 80 percent – over 80 percent – of people in this country want to see that, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.
It would require super PACs and issue advocacy groups to disclose donors who contribute more than $10,000 and stop the use of transfers between organizations to cloak the identity, to hide the identity of the source of those contributions. It would counter partisan interference in election administration and protect election officials because not only do we need to make sure people can vote, we need to make sure their vote is counted. It would prevent voter purges by requiring states to use objective and reliable evidence to remove voters and prohibit the targeting of voters solely because they haven't voted recently. While giving election administrators flexibility to remove voters based on state records.
As Stacey Abrams has said, if you don't go to a meeting for a while, do you lose your right to assemble? No, you don't. If you don't go to a church or synagogue or a mosque for a while, do you lose your right to exercise your right for religion? No, you don't. You shouldn't lose your right to vote. It would also prohibit partisan gerrymandering, this bill will, so that voters choose their elected officials, not the other way around.
Now, my home state of Minnesota is a great example of how this can all work. When you make it easier for people to vote, they'll vote. I have never seen this as a partisan issue. In election after election, our state leads the nation in voter turnout because we have things like, now, no-excuse voting by mail or 46 days of early voting. Our bill doesn't go that far because we're setting minimum standards, but that's what we have in our state.
Same-day voter registration. What has happened as a result? High voter turnout every time. Who have we elected? Well we have elected Democratic governors like our Governor Tim Walz, we’ve elected Republican governors like Tim Pawlenty. And we have elected Independents like Jesse Ventura.
But what have I noticed? People feel like they’re part of the democracy, because we make it easier for them to vote. These policies that ensure Minnesota will continue to hold the coveted title of first in voter turnout, very close to the presiding officer’s state of Colorado, are overseen by our Secretary of State Steve Simon who continues to push for improvements in our elections.
The freedom to vote is fundamental to all our freedoms. Protecting it has not always been easy. Throughout our country's 245-year history, we have had to course correct and take action to ensure that our democracy for the people, by the people, actually lives up to its ideals. Voting is how Americans control their government and hold elected officials accountable. It was the founding principle of our country, and it has stood the test of wars, economic strife, and a global pandemic.
But as we have seen in states like Georgia, Florida, Iowa, Montana, and most recently Texas, we are up against a coordinated attack aimed at limiting the freedom to vote. This demands a federal response, and the Constitution could not be clearer. It says right there that Congress can make or alter laws regarding federal elections. Just last week, legislation in Texas was signed into law that makes it harder to vote, and many states are already underway drawing new congressional maps. Without this bill, there will be nothing to limit many states from drawing gerrymandered maps that will distort the voices of Americans, not just for one year, but for the next decade.
The urgency for a federal response, which is why as Chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee I have worked to ensure that voting rights are a priority. It's why one of our first hearings this year was on the For the People Act. Why? And I see Reverend Warnock here, why we took the Rules Committee on the road to Georgia in its first hearing in 20 years. And just last month, Senator Baldwin and I held a roundtable discussion in Wisconsin on what's been happening in that state and what would have been put into law, including only having one ballot dropoff box in the entire city of Milwaukee, if the governor hadn't stepped in and vetoed it.
And we're not done yet, because these discussions with voters are the most pressing testament that the threat to the freedom to vote is very real and affecting people of all walks of life across the country. We can't sit back idly and watch our democracy be threatened. As President Biden said in Philadelphia, the fight to protect the right to the vote is the test of our time. Americans have fought and died to protect this freedom, and 56 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed by this chamber and signed into law, we are still continuing this fight. We have asked our colleagues from the other side of the aisle to join us on this bill. We have made many, many, many changes to this legislation in response to concerns they have raised, in response to concerns Senator Manchin raised, in response to concerns the Secretaries of States have made across the country. We have adapted this bill to make it much easier to implement in rural areas, in small towns. We are proud of this legislation.
But yet, what do we hear from the other side of the aisle? Well, over the last few months, one of their refrains, which I find so amusing, is they say this will somehow result in chaos.
Truly, chaos is a five hour wait to vote in the sun in Georgia without food or water.
Chaos is prohibiting eligible voters from voter rolls and prohibiting mail-in ballot drop boxes and having only one in the entire Harris County in Texas for five million people.
Chaos is voters in Wisconsin waiting in line to vote for hours in the rain wearing homemade face masks and plastic garbage bags.
That angry mop on January 6 that came right into this chamber, that was chaos. And you want to stop the chaos? Federal minimum voting standards. Telling extremists they can't spend millions on sham audits. That stops the chaos.
Getting dark money out of our politics. That stops the chaos.
And making sure that people have a voice by ending partisan gerrymandering, that stops the chaos.
So once again, I urge my Republican colleagues to recognize the work being done in many of their own states to restrict the freedom of Americans to exercise their sacred right to vote. Our nation was founded on the ideals of democracy, and as we have seen for ourselves in this very building, we cannot afford to take it for granted.
We have so much work to do. Voting rights reform. This bill guaranteeing the freedom to vote is about the salvation of our very democracy. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting the Freedom to Vote Act. Mr. President, I see my colleague, Senator Merkley, such a great leader on the For the People bill, Senator Warnock, such a great leader, new in the Senate but already establishing himself across the country and in Georgia as a leader on voting rights, are both here. And I yield the floor.
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