Senate Democrats brought their push for a new federal voting bill to battleground Wisconsin on Wednesday, arguing at a roundtable discussion that the sweeping measure is needed to blunt attempts by Republicans to make voting more difficult.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., 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 roundtable.
In addition to 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.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, joined Klobuchar at the event that was also attended by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, Urban League of Greater Madison president Ruben Anthony and other community leaders.
“We are in the fight of our lives,” Anthony said. “Our democracy is under attack.”
Klobuchar, who has helped guide the elections bill in the Senate, credited Gov. Tony Evers with vetoing election bills passed by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.
Evers, a Democrat 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.
The state has multiple, overlapping safeguards aimed at preventing ineligible voters from casting ballots, tampering with the ballots or altering vote totals.
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.
Pair in spotlight
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.
Klobuchar said Manchin wants to talk with Republicans who may support the bill and if that doesn’t work out, then talks will move toward changes to the filibuster rule.
“We have been negotiating with Sen. Manchin and working with him,” Klobuchar said.
Nothing in the emails suggests there were problems with the election that contributed in any meaningful way to Trump's 20,682-vote loss to Joe Biden.
Republicans say the changes amount to a federal takeover of elections, which are administered at the state and local level.
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.
Election laws have become an increasingly partisan flashpoint after former 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.