Reed Urges Passage of The Freedom to Vote Act
WASHINGTON, DC – Ahead of a key procedural vote today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed took to the Senate floor to call for the swift passage of to the Freedom to Vote Act, sweeping federal legislation that would protect the right to vote, strengthen our democracy, reform the redistricting process to ban partisan gerrymandering, and enhance voting rights protections for communities of color.
“As some states and political operatives around the country seek to roll back voter protection laws and gerrymander voting districts, Congress must act to strengthen the freedom to vote and ensure elections are safe and accessible.
“Since its original passage in 1965, the Voting Rights Act safeguarded the rights of historically marginalized voters at the polls.
“Sadly, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted key Voting Rights Act protections. Earlier this year, in July 2021, the Supreme Court issued another split ruling further weakening the law in its decision in Brnovich v. DNC, making it more difficult to challenge discriminatory voting laws under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
“Over the years, this democracy has seen a crisis in access to the polls, and it’s been worsened recently as Republican-led state legislatures have implemented policies that disproportionately suppress the voting rights of people of color, the elderly, college students, and those living in rural areas, among others. Those same political operatives have repeatedly weaponized false claims of election fraud, like those perpetuated by former President Trump, to try and overturn the will of the people.
“The right to vote is a fundamental right, guaranteed by our Constitution, and it is our responsibility to protect it. In the United States of America, a beacon of democracy, our elections must be open and transparent and follow a process and procedures that all Americans can trust. It is more important than ever that Congress affirm that voters have a right to free and fair elections.
“The Freedom to Vote Act fulfills this constitutional responsibility by improving access to the ballot, advancing commonsense election integrity reforms, and protecting our democracy from emerging threats from cyber-attacks all the way to misinformation bots. It is not the job of government to make it hard to vote—rather, it is our responsibility to balance the convenience of voters with security of their ballots. This legislation does just that.”
The Freedom to Vote Act sets basic standards for all Americans to vote safely and securely, no matter what zip code they live in. It adopts proven reforms that will protect voters from all parties, wherever they live. The bill includes three sections:
I. Voter Access and Election Administration
This section includes provisions to advance voter access by implementing reliable state best practices for voter registration and election administration to ensure all Americans can easily exercise their freedom to vote regardless of where they live.
- Automatic Voter Registration and Online Voter Registration: Enacts an automatic voter registration system for each state through the state’s motor vehicle agency and ensures voters in all states have access to online voter registration.
- Election Day Holiday: Makes Election Day a public holiday.
- Uniform Early Voting: Ensures voters have access to at least two weeks of early voting for federal elections, including two weekends, while accommodating small election jurisdictions and vote-by-mail jurisdictions.
- Same Day Voter Registration: Ensures every state offers same day registration at a limited number of locations for the 2022 elections and at all polling locations by 2024, allowing election officials, especially in rural areas, time to implement the new requirements.
- Federal Minimum Standards on Vote by Mail and Drop Boxes: Ensures all voters can request a mail-in ballot, improves the delivery of election mail, and puts in place minimum standards to ensure drop boxes are available and accessible to all voters.
- Strengthens Voter List Maintenance Standards: Requires that the removal of voters from the rolls is done on the basis of reliable and objective evidence and prohibits the use of returned mail sent by third parties to remove voters.
- Counting of Provisional Ballots: Requires provisional ballots to count for all eligible races within a county, regardless of the precinct they were cast in.
- Standards for Voter Identification: Promotes voter confidence and access by requiring a uniform national standard for states that require identification for in-person voting, and allowing voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form. States that do not have a voter identification requirement would not be required to make any changes.
- Voting Rights Restoration for Returning Citizens: Restores the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison.
- Expanded Voting Access Protections for the Disabled, Native Americans, Military, Overseas Voters, and Underserved Communities: Includes targeted protections to promote accessible voting to communities facing unique challenges.
II. Election Integrity
This section includes measures to promote confidence in elections, stop partisan election subversion, and protect against election interference, both foreign and domestic.
- Preventing State Election Subversion: Establishes federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control.
- Protection of Election Records, Election Infrastructure, and Ballot Tabulation: Strengthens protections for federal election records and election infrastructure in order to protect the integrity and security of ballots and voting systems.
- Voter-Verified Paper Ballots, Reliable Audits, and Voting System Upgrades: Requires states to use voting systems that use paper ballots that can be verified by voters and to implement reliable post-election audits. Also provides grants for states to purchase new and more secure voting systems and make cybersecurity improvements.
- Non-Partisan Election Official Recruitment and Training: Tasks the Election Assistance Commission with developing model training programs to recruit a new generation of election workers and provides dedicated grants for training and recruitment.
- Comprehensive Voting System Security Protections: Puts in place election vendor cybersecurity standards, including standards for manufacturing and assembling voting machines, among other key security measures.
- Establishing Duty to Report Foreign Election Interference: Creates a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts.
III. Civic Participation and Empowerment
This section includes provisions to prevent partisan manipulation of the redistricting process, establishes uniform disclosure standards for money in politics, and empowers states to make critical investments in their election systems.
- Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform and Banning Partisan Gerrymandering: Requires states to abide by specific criteria for congressional redistricting and makes judicial remedies available for states’ failure to comply. Allows states to choose how to develop redistricting plans, including the option of having an independent redistricting commission.
- Combatting Secret Money and Election Interference (DISCLOSE Act and Honest Ads Act): Requires super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other organizations spending money in elections to disclose donors and shuts down the use of transfers between organizations to cloak the identity of contributors. Ensures that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
- State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund: Establishes a self-sustaining fund to finance critical investments in state-led innovations for our democracy and election infrastructure. The fund is financed through an additional assessment paid on federal fines, penalties, and settlements for certain tax crimes and corporate malfeasance. States would be allotted an annual distribution for eligible democracy and election-related investments. States could select to access their full distribution or a partial distribution, or roll over their distribution for future use.
- Nonpartisan Oversight of Federal Election Law: Improves the ability of the Federal Election Commission to carry out oversight and enforcement responsibilities.
- Stopping Illicit Super PAC Coordination: Creates “coordinated spender” category to ensure single-candidate super PACs do not operate as arms of campaigns.