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Senator Tammy Baldwin joins Democrats in pushing for voting rights legislation. What could it mean for Wisconsin?

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - NOVEMBER 06: United States Senator from Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin speaks at an Atlantic Council event on day seven of the COP26 at SECC on November 06, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Ian Forsyth
Getty Images Europe
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin speaks at an Atlantic Council event on day seven of the COP26 at SECC on Nov. 6, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Democratic party is making a big push for voting rights legislation. The Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act promise to protect access to the ballot box in different ways. The vast majority of Senate Republicans have opposed these bills, including Wisconsin’s Senator Ron Johnson who has voted to block these bills.

"One looks at the current situation, the Freedom to Vote Act, and then the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is a prospective piece of legislation. Both very important tools," says Senator Tammy Baldwin, one of the most ardent supporters of this legislation.

Baldwin explains that state governments around the country are passing legislation to suppress the citizen vote since the insurrection on the U.S capitol. For example, in Wisconsin, the Republican-led legislature has attempted to pass a variety of bills that would curtail access to the ballot box or substantially change the way elections are conducted.

That's where the Freedom to Vote Act comes in. There are provisions in the act that prevent suppressive laws that limit access to early voting or drop-off boxes. The act would make election day a federal holiday, ensure universal access to mail-in voting, and ban partisan gerrymandering. Baldwin says the act would also strengthen protections for election officials, who have been targeted by many Republican politicians in Wisconsin and around the country.

"The Republican-led legislature in the state of Wisconsin has been doing a number of other things that serve to intimidate, threaten or harass election officials, undermining people's confidence in the vote and the electoral or the election process," says Baldwin.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act restores some provisions in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court gutted in 2013. The new law would reassert the federal government's authority to oversee state voting laws that disproportionately affect people of color.

In Wisconsin, where gerrymandering remains an obstacle to representative democracy, Baldwin says timeliness is a concern of hers. The state is approaching election deadlines that require the new district maps to be in place.

"The obstacle is that the minority leader Mitch McConnell has, I think, abused the rules of the Senate to prevent our getting to debate these important, in fact, critical bills," says Baldwin.

She says if Democrats get their way and both acts pass, issues like voter identification requirements, ease of voter registration, and access to absentee or early voting would be addressed rather than suppressed.

"All of these issues, there are standards that would be addressed in the freedom to vote app so it could have reaching consequences for voters in Milwaukee and frankly, everywhere in the state of Wisconsin," says Baldwin.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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