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How Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s new voting rights bill differs from her old voting rights bill

The Freedom to Vote Act, less expansive than March’s For the People Act, is a bid to attract Republican votes for federal protections of voting rights.

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

As Republican legislatures in states around the country have sought to restrict the right to vote in the wake of President Donald Trump’s loss of the 2020 election, Democrats in Washington are pushing to use federal power to protect voting rights everywhere in the country.

As chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been at the center of this effort. In March, Klobuchar introduced the “For the People Act,” which contained a wide range of measures aiming to “restore the promise of American democracy by addressing voter intimidation and suppression, ending the corrupting power of dark money in campaigns, putting an end to gerrymandering, and strengthening ethics laws.”

Democrats hit a roadblock with the For the People Act this summer. Republicans have been united in opposition to what some call a federal takeover of election policy. In an evenly divided Senate, a GOP filibuster stood in Democrats’ way. While some in the party advocated for ending the filibuster in order to pass the For the People Act, such a change was opposed by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, effectively making such a change impossible. (Manchin was also the only Democratic senator to oppose the For the People Act.)

Now, a working group of several Democratic senators (and one independent) has created a bill they hope will maintain the original idea of the For the People Act while appealing more to centrists and conservatives. Klobuchar joined together with Manchin and several of their colleagues in the Senate to produce the Freedom to Vote Act, an election-protection bill that will act as a compromise bill.

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“With the Freedom to Vote Act, the entire voting rights working group… is united behind legislation that 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,” Klobuchar said.

Here’s how she got to the new bill, and how it differs from the For the People Act.

Meeting with elections officials

Klobuchar is the lead sponsor of the Freedom to Vote Act, and created the bill with Manchin and cosponsors Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA).

Throughout the summer this year, Klobuchar met with voters and elected officials on the ground to learn more about what people in different states would need from a federal level election and voting overhaul.

One such trip occurred in Georgia, where the senator met with voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and held a roundtable with four Georgia voters who had difficulty casting ballots in the 2020 general election or the Georgia Senate runoffs before the state’s newer, more restrictive law came into effect.

In August, Sen. Klobuchar also joined with Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin to hold a voting roundtable in Madison. Klobuchar’s team said these meetings played a major role in shaping the new piece of legislation, and that she worked closely with her colleagues on a voting rights working group to create a bill that could garner broad support.

“We worked together throughout the summer to write this bill, taking into account feedback from election officials across the country and our colleagues in Congress,” Klobuchar said. “We can’t sit back idly and watch our democracy be threatened, and I will continue to work to build support for this crucial legislation.”

The senators who wrote this new bill hope it will be attractive enough to Republicans to get the votes they need to pass it.

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How the bill differs from the For the People Act

As a replacement for the For the People Act, the Freedom to Vote Act drops some of the more contentious parts of the first bill, such as restructuring the Federal Election Commission and publicly financing congressional elections on a wide scale.

A press release from Klobuchar’s office said that the legislation “reflects feedback from state and local election officials the Rules Committee has heard through the year to ensure the people responsible for implementing reforms are able to do so effectively. It also elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.”

Though the two bills are different, the Freedom to Vote Act retains provisions to establish nationwide standards for ballot access as a response to voting restrictions that some Republican legislators have put in place around the country since the 2020 elections.

The new revised bill would also mandate that states allow at minimum 15 consecutive days of early voting, including two weekends. It would ensure that all voters can request to vote by mail and establish new automatic voter registration programs and make Election Day a national holiday.

On redistricting, the bill would mandate that states follow specific criteria when drawing new district lines in order to reduce partisan gerrymandering, and it would mandate disclosure of donors to so-called dark money groups.

The bill would also create new federal protections from partisan interference for state and local election administrators.

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One thing the bill does not incorporate is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Civil rights activists had urged that the John Lewis act be passed in tandem with the For the People Act, but as of now it appears that it won’t be paired with the Freedom to Vote Act.

Despite the changes made in the Freedom to Vote Act, the bill will still face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats will still need to secure 10 Republican votes to pass it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has already announced that Republicans will not support the bill.

But Democrats like Klobuchar are determined to see it through.

“The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country,” Klobuchar said. “These attacks demand an immediate federal response.”