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The Free­dom to Vote Act is historic legis­la­tion to strengthen Amer­ican demo­cracy, promote racial justice and equity for all Amer­ic­ans, and thwart the assault on voting rights taking place in the states.

In the wake of the 2020 elec­tion, an unpre­ced­en­ted wave of restrict­ive voting laws and elec­tion sabot­age efforts are taking hold in the states, with more likely to come this year. We are also in the midst of another cycle of extreme partisan gerry­man­der­ing. Both these and other attacks on demo­cracy have often primar­ily targeted communit­ies of color. Congress has the legal and consti­tu­tional power to ward off these attacks by passing the Free­dom to Vote Act, which would set national stand­ards to protect the free­dom to vote, counter elec­tion sabot­age, end partisan redis­trict­ing, and fix our broken campaign finance system.

Together with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advance­ment Act (which would restore and update the full protec­tions of the land­mark Voting Rights Act of 1965), the Free­dom to Vote Act would be the most compre­hens­ive demo­cracy reform law enacted in decades. With congres­sional redis­trict­ing already well under­way and the 2022 midterm campaigns set to begin in earn­est within months, there is no time to lose. Congress must act without delay.

Key provi­sions of the Free­dom to Vote Act include:

Expand­ing Oppor­tun­it­ies to Vote

The Free­dom to Vote Act would create a baseline national stand­ard for voting access, pree­mpt­ing many of the most oner­ous restric­tions that have been passed or proposed recently in the states and expand­ing oppor­tun­it­ies for all Amer­ic­ans to cast their ballots.

  • Early voting: The bill would require all 50 states to offer early voting peri­ods for at least two weeks prior to Elec­tion Day, includ­ing on nights and week­ends, for at least 10 hours per day (except for juris­dic­tions with fewer than 3,000 voters, which would only be required to offer early voting during the elec­tion office’s regu­lar busi­ness hours and for at least 8 hours on one Saturday and one Sunday during the early vote period). Each state would also be required to ensure that, when possible, early voting polling places are within walk­ing distance of public trans­port­a­tion, access­ible to rural voters, and located on college campuses.
     
  • Mail voting: The bill would create a national stand­ard permit­ting no-excuse vote by mail for every eligible voter. States would be required to permit voters to apply for absentee ballots online and prohib­ited from impos­ing oner­ous require­ments like requir­ing mail ballots to be notar­ized. Apart from return­ing ballots by mail, the bill would allow voters to return mail ballots in person to a polling place or to a drop box. The bill also includes safe­guards to ensure fair resol­u­tion of discrep­an­cies between a voter’s signa­ture on a mail ballot and their signa­ture on file with elec­tion author­it­ies. Any mail ballot post­marked on Elec­tion Day that arrives within seven days would need to be coun­ted, and ballots could not be discarded for minor errors, like fail­ing to use an outer secur­ity envel­ope.
     
  • Elec­tion Day holi­day: The bill would make Elec­tion Day a legal public holi­day, making it easier for voters to get to the polls. 
     
  • Protec­tions for indi­vidu­als with disab­il­it­ies: The bill would address some of the biggest chal­lenges to voting access that Amer­ic­ans with disab­il­it­ies face. The bill would require each state to ensure that indi­vidu­als with disab­il­it­ies have the same access to absentee ballots and applic­a­tions as other voters, as well as making them elec­tron­ic­ally access­ible to voters with disab­il­it­ies, among other safe­guards.
     
  • Voter valid­a­tion: The bill would promote a national stand­ard for states that have an iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ment for in-person voting, allow­ing for the use of a wide range of forms of iden­ti­fic­a­tion (includ­ing elec­tronic copies) and altern­at­ive options for voter valid­a­tion. States that do not impose an iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ment would not be required to have one.

Thwart­ing Voter Suppres­sion

The Free­dom to Vote Act would take direct action to respond to overt voter suppres­sion that blocks Amer­ic­ans’ access to the vote.

  • Crack­ing down on decept­ive and intim­id­at­ing prac­tices: The bill would prohibit the dissem­in­a­tion of false and mislead­ing inform­a­tion designed to deter eligible voters from cast­ing a ballot. It would also estab­lish federal crim­inal penal­ties for deceiv­ing voters and allow the attor­ney general to share accur­ate inform­a­tion about elec­tions if state offi­cials fail to do so. Finally, it would increase exist­ing penal­ties for voter intim­id­a­tion. 
     
  • Voting rights restor­a­tion: The bill restores federal voting rights to formerly incar­cer­ated citizens upon their release, estab­lish­ing a bright-line stand­ard to replace the confus­ing patch­work of state laws and remov­ing the vestiges of restric­tions born out of Jim Crow.
     
  • Coun­ter­ing long lines and related discrim­in­at­ory prac­tices: The bill creates protec­tions for indi­vidu­als subjec­ted to excess­ive lines on Elec­tion Day — most often Black and Latino voters — by requir­ing states to ensure that lines last no longer than 30 minutes and restrict­ing states from prohib­it­ing dona­tions of food or water to voters wait­ing in line.
     
  • Private right of action: The bill creates a cause of action that allows voters to sue when their consti­tu­tional right to vote is infringed upon.

Prevent­ing Elec­tion Sabot­age

Voter suppres­sion and extreme gerry­man­der­ing are them­selves forms of elec­tion sabot­age, but the Free­dom to Vote Act also includes new specific protec­tions to counter tactics that arose in 2021, from attacks on elec­tion offi­cials to partisan elec­tion “reviews.”

  • Restric­tions on the politi­cized removal of elec­tion offi­cials and related safe­guards: The bill would increase protec­tions for local elec­tion admin­is­trat­ors and help prevent them from being removed for partisan or polit­ical reas­ons. The bill allows offi­cials admin­is­ter­ing federal elec­tions to bring a lawsuit chal­len­ging their removal if they were replaced for reas­ons other than gross negli­gence, neglect of duty, or malfeas­ance in office. It also increases other federal protec­tions against intim­id­a­tion of elec­tion work­ers.
     
  • Enhanced protec­tions of ballots and records: The bill would protect against partisan, postelec­tion attempts to tamper with results by expand­ing the penal­ties for destroy­ing or alter­ing ballots and other elec­tion records and expand­ing the categor­ies of what records must be preserved after federal elec­tions. These provi­sions are inten­ded to protect against the postelec­tion mishand­ling of ballots and other records (such as what is alleged to have taken place in the partisan review of Mari­copa County’s elec­tion results). 
     
  • Remedy for fail­ure to certify results: The bill’s cause of action for infringe­ment of the right to vote would allow an indi­vidual to bring a lawsuit chal­len­ging not only the viol­a­tion of their right to cast a ballot but also their right to have that ballot coun­ted and certi­fied. This would allow voters to sue in the event of an unreas­on­able fail­ure to certify elec­tion results or other efforts to set aside a valid elec­tion outcome.

Redis­trict­ing Reform

The Free­dom to Vote Act provides crit­ical safe­guards to end extreme partisan gerry­man­der­ing in congres­sional redis­trict­ing. The new redis­trict­ing cycle has begun, but there is still time to prevent the worst extreme gerry­man­der­ing and discrim­in­a­tion against communit­ies of color if these changes are enacted quickly.

  • Banning partisan gerry­man­der­ing and estab­lish­ing clear, neut­ral stand­ards: The bill would require strong, uniform rules for congres­sional redis­trict­ing, includ­ing a ban on partisan gerry­man­der­ing and strengthened protec­tions for communit­ies of color. These rules would be applic­able to all maps created in the current cycle, includ­ing those that have already been enacted.
     
  • Proced­ural safe­guards: The bill will also ensure greater trans­par­ency in the redis­trict­ing process and add enhanced judi­cial remed­ies to ensure that discrim­in­at­ory or gerry­mandered maps can quickly be chal­lenged in court and fixed.

Modern­iz­ing Voter Regis­tra­tion

The Free­dom to Vote Act would modern­ize our voter regis­tra­tion system and solve the vast major­ity of regis­tra­tion prob­lems that routinely keep millions of Amer­ic­ans from voting.

  • Auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion: The bill would make auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR), which 19 states and the District of Columbia have already adop­ted, the national stand­ard. Under AVR, eligible voters are auto­mat­ic­ally registered to vote when they provide inform­a­tion to a parti­cip­at­ing govern­ment agency, unless they opt out. The bill requires AVR to be offered at state DMVs and provides fund­ing for that purpose and for expand­ing it to other agen­cies. It also estab­lishes privacy and secur­ity protec­tions, includ­ing protec­tions for persons inad­vert­ently registered.
     
  • Same day voter regis­tra­tion: The bill requires states to offer same day voter regis­tra­tion (SDR), which 20 states and the District of Columbia have already adop­ted. SDR permits eligible voters to register to vote and cast a ballot in federal elec­tions on the same day.
     
  • Online voter regis­tra­tion: The Free­dom to Vote Act requires states to allow voters to register to vote online, as 42 states and the District of Columbia already do.
     
  • Protec­tions against unlaw­ful voter purges: The bill provides safe­guards to prevent unlaw­ful, faulty, error-prone meth­ods for purging voter rolls, while allow­ing states to accur­ately main­tain their voter regis­tra­tion lists. Further, states would be required to notify within 48 hours any indi­vidual removed from the list of eligible voters of their removal, the reas­ons for their removal, and how they can contest the removal.

Campaign Finance Reform

The Free­dom to Vote Act would take crucial steps towards over­haul­ing our nation’s campaign finance system.

  • Shor­ing up campaign trans­par­ency: The bill would curb “dark money” from undis­closed sources in federal elec­tions by requir­ing any entity that spends more than $10,000 in an elec­tion to disclose all major donors. It would also extend campaign trans­par­ency require­ments to inter­net ads, require these ads to clearly identify their spon­sors, and require the major online plat­forms that sell them to create search­able data­bases of past advert­ise­ments and their buyers in order to maxim­ize trans­par­ency and minim­ize disin­form­a­tion.
     
  • Ensur­ing that super PACs are truly inde­pend­ent: The bill also tight­ens rules inten­ded to keep super PACs and other outside groups inde­pend­ent of candid­ates.
     
  • Fixing campaign finance enforce­ment: The bill ensures that the Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion commis­sion will invest­ig­ate poten­tial viol­a­tions of the law without being stymied by partisan grid­lock.
     
  • Small donor match­ing: The bill estab­lishes a volun­tary small donor match­ing system for elec­tions to the House of Repres­ent­at­ives for states that choose to opt in. The program would be paid for exclus­ively through a new state Elec­tion Assist­ance and Innov­a­tion Fund, which does not rely on taxpayer dollars. (States choos­ing not to opt in to the match­ing system could use funds for other elec­tion improve­ments.)

Promot­ing Elec­tion Secur­ity

The Free­dom to Vote Act includes much needed improve­ments to elec­tion secur­ity and meas­ures to prevent subver­sion of the elect­oral process.

  • Requir­ing postelec­tion audits: The bill requires states to conduct trans­par­ent postelec­tion audits that adhere to clearly defined rules and proced­ures.
     
  • Requir­ing paper records and other elec­tion infra­struc­ture improve­ments: The bill requires states to replace old, paper­less elec­tronic voting machines with voting systems that provide voter-veri­fied paper records and provides grants for states to purchase more secure voting systems.