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Senate Democrats Reach A Deal On Revised Voting Rights Legislation

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Senate Democrats say they have reached a deal on revised voting rights legislation. Senator Amy Klobuchar chairs the Committee on Rules and Administration and is unveiling the measure this morning. Senator, good morning.

AMY KLOBUCHAR: Well, thanks, A. It's great to be on.

MARTINEZ: Now, your bill would make Election Day a holiday, set standards on mail-in voting, among other things. What can you tell us about the details of the bill?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, this was a bill that came together with some very different senators. Senator Schumer brought us together with Senator Manchin - who has, as you know, been very involved in this as a former secretary of state of West Virginia - Merkley, Warnock, Padilla, Kaine, Tester and King. And what we did together was pull together a bill that we could all support. And we're working with the caucus, but we're optimistic that we're going to get all Democrats on board. And we didn't have that before.

And what this bill does - it's so strong. It gives 15 days of early voting, which would be so helpful in a state like Georgia that has taken away the weekend voting - for instance, during the runoff period in their last bill, their voter suppression bill they passed. It would make it easier to register to vote, make it so that every American can request a mail-in ballot. It basically unites us on some basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, that's safe for them, regardless of what zip code they live in.

MARTINEZ: And speaking of your Democratic colleague - you mentioned Joe Manchin. He has been very particular about a lot of different things the last few months. What from his earlier framework on voting rights did you take and put into this one?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I think that's a really great question because he's had this experience. And I think the reason you saw people like Barack Obama and Stacey Abrams embracing the framework he put out there is that there's so many strong things in it - a ban on partisan gerrymandering. It includes the Disclose Act for dark money in politics. We can finally get that unveiled, and it will make such a difference - the Honest Ads Act.

So some of the things that Joe was focused on were to make sure that the early voting worked for rural areas. And we made a number of changes there over time. It also made it very clear that we were going to respond to some of the new things going on with states that were trying to get rid of local election officials for no real reason and that you'd have to have for cause, a reason. So that was one of the changes that he agreed to that we made to the bill. We worked out the voter identification part of the bill, which was very important to him, and in a way that I think will work for all of our states.

MARTINEZ: Is what you came up with enough to get him to rubber-stamp it, to give it a thumbs up?

KLOBUCHAR: Yeah, it's not a rubber stamp. He was really involved in every meeting. We had meeting with Senator Schumer. I want to make that very clear. Senator Manchin was involved. Senator Schumer made certain that that happened, and it was a negotiation. And I think what's come out of here is a really strong product that we're unveiling today and we'll discuss with all our colleagues and then move on to work to get Republican support.

MARTINEZ: You mentioned voter ID provisions. One of the more controversial issues for many Democrats is the requirement to show ID at the time of voting. That's pushed by Republicans in many states. Now, Senator, Democrats seem open to this?

KLOBUCHAR: Now, what this does right now is it makes very clear that states have jurisdiction here. And we already have a number of states that don't have voter ID requirements, including my own. And so though those states - there will be no changes there to those 14 states. For the other states, it simply lays out the federal requirements of what could be accepted, which includes student IDs, utility bills. We've seen this all over the country. That's what nearly all these states have anyway. And then, for further help, you can just do a sworn statement attesting to your identity. And then you would be allowed to either, depending on what the state wants, cast a regular ballot or a provisional ballot, which is exactly what they have in West Virginia.

MARTINEZ: An ID in digital forms, too, gets covered under this.

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. There's all kinds of ideas that are covered under this

MARTINEZ: Republican senators oppose what they call federal intervention in state election laws. Do you think this time you may be able to get any GOP support? Because that's been difficult.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I find it really hard to believe that some of my colleagues, who I know well, want to endorse what's going on around the country, where they're just messing around with people's right to vote. In the words of Reverend Warnock, some people don't want some people to vote. The requirements in Georgia are things like - A, they've got - you've got to write your birthday on the inner ballot, on the outside - your birthday. Of course, people mess up. They think it's supposed to be the day that they filed the ballot. They have, as I mentioned, no early voting when it comes to the runoff period. You can't vote on the weekends during that time. They have restricted the number of drop off boxes and how you do mail-in balloting. All of this is designed to make it harder for people to vote.

And so when I will appeal to my Republican colleagues - and this is what Senator Manchin is going to be doing this week - the focus is going to be on, this is a fair law that basically focuses on federal standards. And it solves this problem where you have over 400 bills introduced over the country with certain legislators trying to mess up people's right to vote under the Constitution. And it's firmly grounded in the Constitution because the Constitution says that the Congress can make or alter federal election laws.

MARTINEZ: Senator, I ask that only because I know this is going to be difficult to pass without Republican votes. Is this going to renew the debate to eliminate the filibuster rule?

KLOBUCHAR: We will cross that bridge when we come to it. But right now, we are focused on the fact that we have finally gotten some agreement with Senator Manchin and working with others in our caucus, and we're very optimistic about that. And that's our victory that we are putting out there today. And the next step, of course, will be to gather more support for the bill, and we go from there.

MARTINEZ: Senator, it might be a very short trip to that bridge.

KLOBUCHAR: (Laughter).

MARTINEZ: Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, thank you very much.

KLOBUCHAR: Very good, A. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK AND TIM SCHAUFERT'S "TIDES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.