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Klobuchar pressing for national voting standards aimed at increasing ballot access

Her Freedom to Vote Act includes mandating at least two weeks of in-person early voting, establishing a national standard for mail-in voting and establishing new, uniform rules for congressional redistricting aimed at ending partisan gerrymandering.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar and colleagues brought forward a Freedom to Vote Act in 2021.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and colleagues brought forward a Freedom to Vote Act in 2021.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON – Sen. Amy Klobuchar has reignited her voting and election reform campaign, inspired in part by changes Minnesota made over the years to its voting laws, in a newly introduced bill that would set national standards for certain voting laws.

Klobuchar, a Democrat who first introduced the ambitious legislation last year, says she’s playing a long game. She acknowledges there’s little chance of passing the package of proposals in this Congress, which has a Republican-led House of Representatives. But she said the legislation, first crafted during “an entire hot summer of negotiations” two years ago, has already provided a blueprint for some states, including Minnesota, Michigan and Connecticut, that passed new reforms aimed at improving ballot access this year.

And Klobuchar said the legislation has also helped those “who are warding off bad voter suppression laws” in other states.

“We ended up being a clearinghouse (of ideas) for the states,” she said.

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Her Freedom to Vote Act includes mandating at least two weeks of in-person early voting, establishing a national standard for mail-in voting, banning the dissemination of false and misleading information intended to discouraging voters from casting a ballot and establishing new, uniform rules for congressional redistricting aimed at ending partisan gerrymandering.

Klobuchar had sponsored voting reform bills before. But after a Democratic effort at passing a package of reforms called the For the People Act failed in the Senate in 2021, Klobuchar took over the campaign, forging compromises with her Senate colleagues and winning unanimous Democratic support.

“Even Sen. (Joe) Manchin supported it,” she said of the often rebellious West Virginia Democrat.

Even so, the issue of voting reform has become one of the most polarizing issues in the nation.

Since the 2020 elections, the nation’s political parties have been in a pitched battle over the polling booth, with “red” states moving to restrict access to the polls and “blue” states, like Minnesota seeking greater access to the ballot.

Among other things, Minnesota’s new voting laws restored the right to vote for those with felony convictions, allows state agencies to automatically register individuals to vote and allow Minnesotans to receive an absentee ballot for each election until they ask for a halt of the deliveries.

Pride in Minnesota

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit involved in policy and advocacy work that supports Klobuchar’s bill, at least 11 states have approved restrictive voting bills this year. But 13 states, including Minnesota, enacted laws that expanded ballot access.

“These issues used to be much more bipartisan, but we have become more polarized, said Daniel Weiner, director of elections and government at the Brennan Center.

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He said Klobuchar used her position as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee “really to great effect to advance solutions that are important to our democracy.” Weiner also said Klobuchar used her “strong reputation as a broker of compromise,” to get the job done.

“It represents the basic package of reforms for the 21st Century,” Weiner said of the Freedom to Vote Act.

Where Klobuchar and her allies see expansion of voting rights as a way to expand democracy and give often disenfranchised people of color a voice, Republicans say many of her reforms would weaken protections against voting fraud.

Earlier this month, House Republicans introduced the American Confidence in Elections Act, or ACE Act, that would require that people’s citizenship status be printed on identification documents like driver’s licenses for the purposes of checking citizenship.

No state allows noncitizen voting, but a handful of municipalities in California, Maryland and Vermont do allow noncitizens to vote in local municipal elections.

The House GOP bill also impose new requirements for voter identification during the initial registration process and for registered voters who request a mail ballot.

“This legislation is the most substantive and conservative election integrity legislation that will come before the House in over a generation,” said sponsor Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., at a press conference to mark introduction of his bill. “We want to make it easy to vote, and hard to cheat.”

Steil’s bill is not expected to be considered in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate.

But the fight over how best to conduct elections, which are now under the control of individual states, will continue and allegations of fraud are expected to increase in the 2024 general election, even though similar allegations raised in recent elections have mostly been found to be groundless.

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Klobuchar said her “pride in Minnesota,” which has the highest voter turnout in the country, prompted her to seek voting reforms.

Over the years, Minnesota has adopted some of the measures in her bill, including online voter registration and the ability to register to vote on Election Day.

“We are a model on how to do it,” Minnesota’s senior senator said of her home state.

Another proposal in her bill comes from personal experience, Klobuchar said.

That measure would curb the use of “dark money,” in campaigns by requiring certain political action committees and nonprofit groups that spend money in elections to disclose their donors and would ban the transfer of money between organizations to cloak the identity of contributors. “Dark money” has helped increase the cost of political campaigns dramatically.

Klobuchar said in her first bid for U.S. Senate, in 2006, she struggled to raise campaign cash. She began her race with $17,000 she raised from ex-boyfriends, which she said “was not an expanding base.”

“I knew what it was to come from the real world,” she said.

While approval of her Freedom to Vote Act is a longshot, at least for now, Klobuchar is optimistic.

“It’s a benchmark for good voting policy and it’s time will come,” she said.