Skip Navigation
Analysis

Pass the Freedom to Vote Act

The bill is critical for protecting and strengthening our democracy.

September 14, 2021

Today was a big day at the Capitol.

Senate Demo­crats, led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, intro­duced the Free­dom to Vote Act. The bill is a successor to the popu­lar For the People Act, which passed the House in March but hit a Repub­lican brick wall in the Senate. It is a strong bill that should be passed without hesit­a­tion by all members of Congress.

This bill has new momentum, real momentum. It’s our best chance for demo­cracy reform in years. Spon­sors with Klobuchar include several Demo­cratic colleagues, includ­ing, yes, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He worked intens­ively on this over recent weeks. Accord­ing to NBC News, Pres­id­ent Biden has said he’ll work to change fili­buster rules to pass this bill.

The stakes could­n’t be higher.

The legis­la­tion protects millions of Amer­ic­ans’ access to the ballot box and will make it easier for citizens to cast a ballot in a secure but conveni­ent way. Every state would be required to have auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion. Elec­tion Day would become a federal holi­day. Every eligible citizen could request a mail ballot and drop it off at a secure drop box if they so desire.

The Free­dom to Vote Act also advances civil rights and racial justice. It restores federal voting rights to return­ing citizens who have been released from prison after serving their sentences. The bill includes targeted protec­tions to ensure under­served and vulner­able communit­ies, such as those with disab­il­it­ies and Native Amer­ic­ans, aren’t disen­fran­chised through no fault of their own.

It addresses the flood of undis­closed “dark money” into the elect­oral process and creates the option for match­ing funds for House candid­ates when states opt in, modern­iz­ing and expand­ing federal campaign finance reforms passed in previ­ous decades.

And — perhaps most time-sens­it­ive of them all — as states begin to draw their voting maps for the next decade, the legis­la­tion bans partisan gerry­man­der­ing and makes it easier for judges to strike down maps that unfairly entrench one polit­ical party in power and deny communit­ies of color fair repres­ent­a­tion.

I cannot express how crit­ical this piece of legis­la­tion is. Legis­latures in nearly half of the states have passed laws that make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot. The politi­cians claim it’s all about “elec­tion integ­rity.” In fact, it’s about preserving power as Amer­ica diver­si­fies and advan­cing Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen elec­tion. In the Cali­for­nia recall elec­tion, for example, Repub­lican candid­ates and oper­at­ives are already alleging voter fraud before all the votes have even been cast. Why wait?

Just last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed S.B. 1 into law. This danger­ous and sweep­ing law makes it harder for voters with language barri­ers or who have disab­il­it­ies to get the help they need to cast their ballot. It also threatens poll work­ers with crim­inal prosec­u­tion if they try to stop partisan poll watch­ers from harass­ing and intim­id­at­ing voters. It’s the most extreme of the voting restric­tions passed by legis­latures this year.

Lawsuits like ours are import­ant. But there’s no substi­tute for strong national stand­ards. 

Will Congress have the polit­ical will to act? Will the White House put its muscle behind Biden’s state­ment that this is the greatest threat to Amer­ican demo­cracy since the Civil War? The coming weeks will tell. But for right now, this is a break­through and a momentum boost — and we are closer than we have ever been to the most signi­fic­ant demo­cracy reform bill in a half century.