Voting rights bill: Senate Democrats push in Wisconsin

Senate Democrats brought their push for a new federal voting bill to battleground Wisconsin on Wednesday, Aug. 25, arguing at a roundtable discussion that the sweeping measure is needed to blunt attempts by Republicans to make voting more difficult.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar expressed optimism that the Democratic bill would pass despite no clear path forward in the face of Republican opposition.

"I’m feeling good about the direction we’re headed right now," Klobuchar said during opening comments of the round table.

In addition to the steadfast Republican opposition to the proposal, there are also disagreements among Senate Democrats about whether to change procedural rules in the evenly divided Senate to get it passed.

Democrats have been trying to keep the spotlight on voting issues in the face of uncertainty about the bill passing.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin joined Klobuchar at the event that was also attended by the Dane County election clerk, the president of the local Urban League and other community leaders.

"We are in the fight of our lives," said Ruben Anthony, president of the Urban League of Greater Madison. "Our democracy is under attack."

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

Klobuchar, who has helped guide the elections bill in the Senate, credited Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers with vetoing election bills passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.

Evers, who is seeking reelection next year, this month vetoed a series of bills passed by Republicans with no support from Democrats that would have toughened requirements for voting absentee.

Evers was originally scheduled to be at Wednesday's event but canceled to travel to Fort McCoy, a Wisconsin military base where refugees from Afghanistan are being processed.

Gov. Tony Evers

Gov. Tony Evers

The event came a day after the House passed a bill, with all Democrats in favor and Republicans against, that would restore voting rights protections that have been dismantled by the Supreme Court. Its prospects are dim in the Senate, where Democrats don’t have the votes to overcome opposition from Republicans who have rejected the measure as "unnecessary" and a "power grab."

Ten Republicans would have to break ranks to end a GOP-led filibuster in the Senate.

Democrats will have to decide whether they want to change Senate filibuster rules to ultimately pass the bill. At least two Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have said they oppose eliminating the filibuster rule.

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Republicans say the changes amount to a federal takeover of elections, which are administered at the state and local levels.

The measure, known as the For the People Act, would affect virtually every aspect of the electoral process, curbing the influence of big money in politics, limiting the partisan considerations in the drawing of congressional districts and expanding options for voting. It would create minimum voting standards, such as same-day and automatic voter registration, early voting and no-excuse absentee voting.

"This simply puts in national voting standards that are overwhelmingly popular with the public," Klobuchar said. She said it would put in place many measures nationally that Wisconsin already has, such as same-day voter registration and guaranteed early voting.

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Election laws have become an increasingly partisan flashpoint after President Donald Trump falsely blamed voting fraud for his 2020 election loss. Republican and Democratic election officials across the country certified the outcome and Trump’s own attorney general said he saw no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Trump lost to President Joe Biden in Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes. Republican lawmakers are pursuing multiple investigations into how the election was run. There is a push among the most conservative Republicans for an audit similar to the widely discredited one recently completed in Arizona.

Baldwin called the GOP effort a "faux and partisan investigation" that was undermining people's faith in elections and democracy. Republicans argue it's necessary. Election fraud charges have been brought against two people out of nearly 3.3 million voters who cast ballots in Wisconsin in the November 2020 presidential election.

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