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Fact Sheet

Key Differences Between the For the People Act and the Freedom to Vote Act

The Freedom to Vote Act narrows down some parts of the For the People Act, expands upon others, and introduces much-needed reforms.

Last Updated: November 17, 2021
Published: October 14, 2021

The Senate’s recently intro­duced Free­dom to Vote Act (FTVA) incor­por­ates most of the crit­ical provi­sions from the For the People Act (FTPA), land­mark voting rights and anti-corrup­tion legis­la­tion that passed the House of Repres­ent­at­ives in March 2021. It also includes new, much-needed safe­guards against attempts to under­mine the elect­oral process.

Never­the­less, the FTVA is comprom­ise legis­la­tion that reflects import­ant conces­sions respons­ive to crit­ics of the FTPA, includ­ing both Repub­lic­ans and moder­ate Demo­crats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia (an original spon­sor of the FTVA). It also incor­por­ates extens­ive feed­back from elec­tion offi­cials and others who advoc­ated to preserve suffi­cient flex­ib­il­ity for states to tailor elec­tion prac­tices to their indi­vidual circum­stances. Finally, while in certain respects the FTVA is narrower legis­la­tion than the FTPA, in other instances it actu­ally expands protec­tions for voting rights and other elect­oral process safe­guards relat­ive to the prior bill.

Here are some of the most notable changes:

New Protec­tions Against Voter Suppres­sion and Attempts to Under­mine the Elect­oral Process (Title III, Subtitles A, B, D, E & H)

  • While the FTPA contained many provi­sions to guard against voter suppres­sion, disin­form­a­tion, and other attempts to subvert the elect­oral process, it did not respond specific­ally to certain recent tactics, like extreme partisan attacks on elec­tion offi­cials, fake “audits” of elec­tion results, efforts to ban the distri­bu­tion of food and water to those wait­ing in long lines to vote, and merit­less refus­als to certify elec­tion results.
  • The FTVA addresses such prac­tices with new provi­sions restrict­ing the removal of elec­tion offi­cials without cause, impos­ing stronger protec­tions for federal elec­tion records, protect­ing the vote tabu­la­tion process from inter­fer­ence and intim­id­a­tion, prohib­it­ing mishand­ling of ballots and other sens­it­ive mater­i­als, restrict­ing states from banning the distri­bu­tion of food and water to those wait­ing in line to vote, and allow­ing voters to go to court and chal­lenge burdens on the right to vote, includ­ing the right to have your vote appro­pri­ately coun­ted and certi­fied.

Elec­tion Day as a Legal Public Holi­day (Title I, Subtitle A, Part 2)

  • The version of the FTPA that passed the House desig­nated Elec­tion Day as a legal public holi­day, but that provi­sion was dropped from the compan­ion bill intro­duced in the Senate. The FTVA restores it.

Auto­matic Voter Regis­tra­tion (Title I, Subtitle A, Part 1)

  • The FTPA as passed by the House set forth a detailed blue­print for auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion (AVR) based on best prac­tices from states that have already imple­men­ted the policy.
  • The FTVA’s auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion provi­sions, in contrast, give states more flex­ib­il­ity than the provi­sions of the FTPA. Most notably, under the FTVA, states are only required to offer AVR at the DMV, as opposed to the longer list of agen­cies the FTPA had required (although the FTVA provides fund­ing to states that want to expand auto­matic voter regis­tra­tion to other agen­cies, such as hous­ing or health agen­cies).

Early Voting (Title I, Subtitle C)

  • The FTPA estab­lished a uniform national two-week early voting period, which required that the early voting period include week­ends and times outside of regu­lar busi­ness hours, as well as that polling places be open for at least 10 hours per day. The bill also required states to ensure that early voting polling places are access­ible to public trans­port­a­tion, rural voters, and college campuses.
  • The FTVA also requires the uniform two-week early voting period as outlined in the FTPA but includes excep­tions for vote-by-mail juris­dic­tions and small juris­dic­tions. Juris­dic­tions that send every registered voter a mail ballot are not required to provide two weeks of early voting, so long as they provide reas­on­able early voting oppor­tun­it­ies during elec­tion offi­cials’ regu­lar busi­ness hours and at least one week­end of early voting. Small juris­dic­tions, includ­ing counties with fewer than 3,000 registered voters and certain small towns and cities that admin­is­ter their own elec­tions, are only required to offer early voting during the regu­lar busi­ness hours of their elec­tion office and on at least one week­end.

Voting by Mail (Title I, Subtitle D)

  • The FTPA as passed by the House required states to allow any voter to cast a mail ballot without an excuse, required states to offer multiple options for return­ing a ballot, prohib­ited states from impos­ing voter ID require­ments for mail voting, and required states to mail absentee ballot applic­a­tions to all registered voters.
  • The FTVA retains the require­ments that all states allow no-excuse mail voting and offer multiple ways to return ballots. It omits the House bill’s require­ment that elec­tion offi­cials distrib­ute mail ballot applic­a­tions to all registered voters (although states cannot prohibit them from doing so) and allows for mail ballot voter ID require­ments that are not more restrict­ive than a state’s in-person ID require­ments.

Voter ID (Title I, Subtitle I)

  • Voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion laws dispro­por­tion­ately burden communit­ies of color, women, and other margin­al­ized groups, and their main justi­fic­a­tion is to prevent a prob­lem — wide­spread in-person voter fraud — that does­n’t exist. The FTPA did not pree­mpt these laws, but it required any state with an in-person voter iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ment to let registered voters lack­ing ID cast a regu­lar ballot upon sign­ing a sworn writ­ten state­ment attest­ing to their iden­tity.
  • The FTVA adopts a differ­ent approach. It requires any state that has a voter ID require­ment to accept the many forms of ID accep­ted in West Virginia, includ­ing util­ity bills and bank state­ments. Voters without such iden­ti­fic­a­tion would have to vote provi­sion­ally, subject to their iden­tity being veri­fied through a process similar to the process in West Virginia.

Voter List Main­ten­ance (Title I, Subtitle J)

  • While the FTPA would have still allowed states to engage in appro­pri­ate main­ten­ance of voter lists, the bill placed tight limits on the meth­ods states could use to determ­ine which voters to purge. The legis­la­tion prohib­ited error-prone meth­ods like inter­state cross-check programs, which compare voter records from multiple states look­ing for supposed duplic­ates (the vast major­ity of which have tended to be false matches). Some have argued that states and local­it­ies need more flex­ib­il­ity to remove a voter from the rolls based on reli­able inform­a­tion that the voter is deceased, has moved, or is no longer eligible.
  • Accord­ingly, the FTVA slims down the restric­tions on voter list main­ten­ance. The bill allows states to mark voters as ineligible based on object­ive and reli­able evid­ence, such as a death certi­fic­ate or change of address form. The restric­tions on some faulty meth­ods remain, such as remov­ing a voter from the rolls for fail­ing to vote in an elec­tion or fail­ing to respond to elec­tion mail. And like the FTPA, the FTVA requires states to provide purged voters with notice and an oppor­tun­ity to show their eligib­il­ity.

Provi­sional Ballots (Title III, Subtitle K)

  • The FTPA as passed by the House required states to count other­wise valid ballots cast in the wrong precinct anywhere in the state.
  • The FTVA contains a narrower require­ment that states count provi­sional ballots cast in the wrong precinct only if cast in the correct county. It also includes new language prohib­it­ing states from impos­ing any further restric­tions on out-of-precinct provi­sional ballots.

Nonpar­tisan Redis­trict­ing Reform (Title V)

  • The FTPA as passed by the House banned partisan gerry­man­der­ing for congres­sional redis­trict­ing and required states to estab­lish inde­pend­ent redis­trict­ing commis­sions to draw future maps.
  • The FTVA does not include the inde­pend­ent commis­sion require­ment, but it retains and strengthens the general ban on partisan gerry­man­der­ing with specific court-enforce­able stand­ards, includ­ing a require­ment that states use computer model­ing to assess the partisan fair­ness of maps, and adds stronger protec­tions for communit­ies of color, and new require­ments to ensure the redis­trict­ing process is more open and trans­par­ent. In a change from the For the People Act, partisan gerry­man­der­ing claims would have to be litig­ated in Wash­ing­ton D.C., and all redis­trict­ing appeals would go to the D.C. Circuit rather than directly to the Supreme Court.

Campaign Finance Over­sight (Title VII)

  • The FTPA as passed by the House would have over­hauled the evenly divided Federal Elec­tion Commis­sion, which has consist­ently failed to enforce campaign finance laws for more than a decade. The over­haul would have included turn­ing the FEC into an odd-numbered body to bring its struc­ture more in line with other inde­pend­ent regu­lat­ors. (Although unlike those agen­cies, the FEC would have had one seat reserved for a polit­ical inde­pend­ent, so that neither party could exert full control.) This model was based on bipar­tisan legis­la­tion intro­duced in the last three Congresses.
  • The FTVA signi­fic­antly scales back changes to the FEC, but the remain­ing reforms would still be a marked improve­ment to the status quo. The FTVA main­tains the FEC’s exist­ing evenly divided struc­ture but over­hauls enforce­ment proced­ures at the commis­sion so that partisan grid­lock cannot be used to block invest­ig­a­tions of alleged viol­a­tions of the law.

Citizen Empower­ment (Title VIII)

  • The House and Senate versions of the FTPA would have created a volun­tary small donor match­ing system for all federal elec­tions, under which parti­cip­at­ing candid­ates would have had dona­tions of $200 or less matched 6–1. By giving candid­ates a path to fund their campaigns without rely­ing on a small group of wealthy donors, small donor match­ing offers the single most effect­ive response to the grow­ing domin­ance of big money in the wake of Citizens United and other misguided court opin­ions. The system in the FTPA would not have used any taxpayer funds.
  • The small donor match­ing system in the FTVA is signi­fic­antly scaled back (and still does not rely on taxpayer funds). It would only be avail­able for House elec­tions, and only in states that choose to opt into the program. States that do not parti­cip­ate would be able to use the money for other purposes, such as upgrad­ing voting systems.

Campaign Finance Trans­par­ency (Title VI)

  • The original FTPA included not only long-over­due campaign finance trans­par­ency provi­sions but also a compre­hens­ive over­haul of federal ethics laws for the exec­ut­ive branch, Congress, and the Supreme Court.
  • The FTVA adopts a more stream­lined approach, paring back the campaign finance disclos­ure provi­sions in the FTPA to key prior­it­ies such as the DISCLOSE and Honest Ads Acts. It also omits the ethics titles, which are likely to be advanced through separ­ate legis­la­tion.