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, delivered a floor speech urging her colleagues to vote to open debate on 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 19 states having enacted laws this year to roll back the freedom to vote -- we can’t simply sit back and watch our democracy be threatened,” said Klobuchar. “...we must stand up for our democracy, whether we are Democrats, or Republicans, or Independents. That’s what our country is about.”
I come to the floor to speak in support of what is right before us right now. And that is proceeding to debate legislation that is critical to our democracy -- the Freedom to Vote Act -- which I introduced with the members of the voting rights working group assembled by Leader Schumer. That would be Senators Manchin, Merkley, Padilla, King, Kaine, Tester, and Warnock. We all have our names on this bill, we all feel very strongly about this bill.
Why? Because the freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms and it is currently under attack. Since the 2020 elections we have seen a persistent and coordinated assault on the freedom to vote, but it has been under attack for much longer as states have closed polling locations on a massive scale and purged hundreds of thousands of voters from the rolls, and as foreign adversaries have actually attempted to interfere in our elections. These attacks on our democracy demand a federal response.
When you have one state attacked by a foreign adversary when they try to get in the voter rolls in Illinois or Hawaii, are we going to expect those states to respond on their own? When we have an assault, a coordinated assault, on voting rights so that you have similar bills introduced across a country to limit drop off boxes, when you have coordinated attacks to limit vote by mail, when you have coordinated attacks to limit registration to vote, it demands a federal response. And what is amazing about our Constitution is that the Founding Fathers anticipated this, because right in the Constitution it says that Congress, this place where we work, can make and alter the laws regarding federal elections. It is bulletproof. It has been upheld time and time again.
The urgent need for action could not be more serious.
With over 400 bills having been introduced in nearly every state to limit the freedom to vote -- and over 30 of those have been signed into law -- with redistricting underway to draw congressional maps that will define our democracy for the next decade; and the first primary for the 2022 elections is in a little over four months in Texas -- we must act now.
It has been over nine months, just nine months, since that violent mob of insurrectionists stormed into this chamber, opened up people’s desks, sat where the presiding officer is sitting right now. They desecrated our Capitol -- the temple of our democracy. This was not just an attack on a building, it was an attack on our Republic. It was an attack on public servants -- police officers who were serving us that day.
And as I said from the inaugural stage just two weeks later under that beautiful blue sky day at the very place where you could still see the spray paint on the columns, where we stood in front of makeshift windows, where we stood, leaders of both political parties in both chambers and from across the nation together, I said, “This is the day our democracy picks itself up, brushes itself off, and does what America always does: goes forward as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
We took back our democracy that day and with this Freedom to Vote Act -- which includes provisions that have the support of 78 percent of Americans who favor two weeks of early voting and 83 percent of voters who support public disclosure of campaign contributions because they believe the people should be running the government, not lobbyists, not outside groups -- we will take it back again from those who are trying to take away people’s constitutional right to vote.
With 19 states having enacted laws this year to roll back the freedom to vote -- we can’t simply sit back and watch our democracy be threatened. Whether it be threatened with bear spray, crowbars, axes, or whether it be threatened with long lines, no ballot drop off boxes, and secret money, we must stand up for our democracy, whether we are Democrats, or Republicans, or Independents. That’s what our country is about. When we are faced with a coordinated effort across our country to limit the freedom to vote, we must stand up and do what is right.
But as we have seen in states like Georgia, and Florida, and Iowa, and Montana, and last month in Texas, we are up against a coordinated attack. As Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock has said, it’s really quite simple. “Some people don’t want some people to vote.” That’s what this is about.
What is this Freedom to Vote Act about? It is about minimum standards for voting. You know, 15 days early voting, my state goes up over 40 days. But that’s not what we put in this bill. We put minimum standards in this bill ensuring voters have access to at least two weeks of early voting.
Voters, so they can cast their mail-in ballot without an excuse. Something people were able to use as a way to safely vote in the middle of a public health crisis. And they did it in record numbers, in the middle of a crisis, because they believed in our democracy no matter which way they voted. Why would we take away that right from them now? Well, you are seeing a curtailing of that right in many states across this country.
It counters partisan interference in election administration, makes sure that these Super PACs and issue advocacy groups that hide behind veils have to show who’s giving them the money, prohibits partisan gerrymandering. And then we listened to Secretary of States across the country, Democrats and Republicans. We listened to our colleague Senator Manchin, who proudly has his name on this bill.
So what did we do? We made changes to this bill. It provides flexibility for small and vote-by-mail jurisdictions on early voting, it makes it easier to implement automatic voting registration, it creates a new flexible source of federal funding to help our states, it ensures election officials can use best practices for ensuring accurate and up-to-date voter rolls.
It is important to recognize that the Freedom to Vote Act is the first piece of voting rights legislation this Congress to come to the Senate floor with the support of all 50 Senate Democrats.
Now, our Republican colleagues may not agree with everything in this bill. Okay, then don't be scared, don't hide behind your desk, don’t deny us the right to simply debate this bill. Our leader Senator Schumer has made it very clear, we are open to amendments on this bill, we welcome your amendments, we’re not putting a limit on amendments. So why would you shy away from debating this bill, unless you just don't want the American people to hear the truth? Unless you don’t want the stories told about what’s going on in places like Georgia, where voters are now being asked to put their birthdate on the outside of the inside envelope? Or maybe you don’t want to have the stories told about how voters in Wisconsin almost, except for the Governor stopping it in its tracks, that voters of Wisconsin almost were limited, in the entire city of Milwaukee, to one drop off box? That bill passed their legislature. That’s what we’re talking about here. So let’s have this debate. Let’s hear the argument. Let’s not stop the debate over the fundamental right to vote that our entire democracy is founded on.
If our Republican colleagues have constructive ideas on ways to improve the legislation, if they are willing to work with us on amendments, then we are prepared to hear them. We are simply asking them to open up the debate. Instead, it’ll be more people standing in line, like they did in Wisconsin in the primary, in homemade masks and garbage bags in a rainstorm, just to exercise their right to vote. It's going to be people that are told, like they just are in Georgia, you can’t even vote on weekends in the runoff period. It’s going to be people who served in our military, who have had to wait in line in the hot sun to wait for hours to vote. That didn't happen when they signed up to serve our country, but it happens when they try to vote.
Let’s have that debate. Americans have fought and died to protect our freedom to vote. They’ve done so on the battlefield, and they’ve done so in marches during the civil rights movement, and 56 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed by this chamber and signed into law, we cannot shut down that debate.
Our nation was founded on the ideals of democracy, and we’ve seen for ourselves, in this very building, that we can’t afford to take that for granted. We can’t do it when legislators and members of Congress get to pick and choose who is going to be able to vote easily. We do it by debating real ideas and standing on the shoulders of those who went out to vote. That’s what a democracy is about.
I urge my colleagues to open up the debate. To not be afraid to shut down the debate. To not hide under their desks. To not put their heads down. I urge them to simply open up the debate.
Thank you Madam President, I yield the floor.
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