Update 557 – Senate Ds Back Freedom to Vote,
But Will Senators Be Free to Vote on Passage?
The Freedom to Vote Act (FVA), based almost entirely on the previous iteration, HR 1/S 1, has been introduced, with the support of every Senate Democrat. The new bill preserves many of the major provisions of the Democrats’ sweeping bill filibustered by Republicans in June and August.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Kaine, King, Klobuchar, Manchin, Merkley, Padilla, Tester, and Warnock, comes after weeks of late summer negotiations. Manchin has been shopping the bill to Republicans, but it’s a near certainty it will not receive the votes of 10 Republicans needed to reach 60 votes to break a filibuster. The question remains whether the U.S. Senate itself will have the freedom to vote on the eponymous bill.
In this update, we discuss what is included in the Freedom to Vote Act, how the FVA is different from the For the People Act, the money in politics provisions, and why it is crucial to pass it into law.
Good weekends all,
Structure and Key Provisions of FTVA
The Freedom to Vote Act creates new momentum for comprehensive voting rights and election reform legislation. The bill incorporates many provisions of the For the People Act, along with Sen. Warnock’s Preventing Election Subversion Act, Sen. Ossoff’s Right To Vote Act, Sen. Klobuchar’s Protecting Election Administration from Interference Act, and Sen. Manchin’s proposal from June. It is divided into three sections: Voter Access, Election Integrity, and Civic Participation and Empowerment. We detail each section below.
- Creates federal standards for mail-in ballots and drop boxes
- Ensures 15 days of early in-person voting, including two weekends
- Establishes Election Day as a federal holiday
- Implements automatic voter registration at each state’s motor vehicle agency and expands online voter registration
- Requires same-day registration at many polling places by 2022 and at all by 2024
- Prohibits states from enacting retrogressive voting policies that make it harder to vote
- Restores the franchise to people with felony convictions upon release from prison
- Expands voting protections for disenfranchised communities like Disabled and Native American voters
- Requires paper ballots for security and verification purposes
- Allows local authorities to apply for grants to purchase updated election equipment
- Prevents partisan interference to subvert elections
- Strengthens and adds new cybersecurity standards for voting machines
- Directs the Election Assistance Commission to develop new trainings for election workers
- Prohibits bans on offering food and water in voting lines
- Requires campaigns to disclose foreign contacts
Civic Participation and Empowerment:
- Bans partisan gerrymandering and requires specific criteria for redistricting
- Includes the DISCLOSE Act, which requires super PACs to disclose their donors, effectively banning dark money
- Requires online political ads to improve disclosure requirements through the Honest Ads Act
- Improves FEC oversight and enforcement abilities
- Establishes the State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund to give states the opportunity to invest in election programs that build the power of regular voters to contend with big money interests, like the Small Donor Matching program and a Democracy Credit (voucher) system
Key Differences From The For the People Act
The Freedom to Vote Act is a robust democracy reform bill, but it differs from the For the People Act in several ways. The negotiations that delivered this updated bill ensured complete Democratic support for the legislation in the Senate, a feat the For the People Act could not achieve.
One added provision is uniform voter validation standards. For states that require proof of identification for voting, voters will be able to use a wider variety of documents to prove their identity. There are no photo ID requirements in this bill, and this item would not apply to states without voter validation laws.
The Freedom to Vote Act also introduces critical additional anti-gerrymandering provisions. This is critical as states begin to release their redistricting maps that will apply for the next 10 years. While the For the People Act required states to form nonpartisan, independent redistricting committees, this bill will allow states to decide how to redistrict. States will be required to be transparent with their process. Maps will be measured against numerical thresholds for partisan fairness. The bill also gives an increased ability for unfair maps to be challenged in court, including allowing the District Court for the District of Columbia jurisdiction over these cases.
FVA is missing the HR 1/S 1 titles on ethics reform. The For the People Act had provisions that would apply new ethics standards and increase transparency across the federal government. With less than a quarter of Americans saying they trust the federal government, ethics reform is long overdue. While ethics are not included in the Freedom to Vote Act, we can celebrate the voting rights and election security provisions, while pushing for a renewed effort towards ethics reform.
The Small Donor Matching Program
While important provisions like the DISCLOSE and Honest Ads Acts are included in the campaign finance section of the Freedom to Vote Act, the money in politics section was largely weakened, specifically the Small Donor Matching Program.
Last week, we described how the Small Donor Matching Program worked in the For the People Act, but it has been considerably altered in the FVA. The Small Donor program now only applies to House races — yes, the Senate’s provisions apply only to House, not Senate elections — and it is an optional program for states.
The Freedom to Vote Act introduces a new funding program called the State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund. It is financed similarly to the Freedom from Influence Fund, securing fines from corporate criminals. The program itself stays the same with a 6-to-1 matching system for House candidates who raise $50,000 from 1,000 individual donors who contribute from $1 to $200. Additionally, this bill creates a democracy credit program where states can opt-in to receive a $25 credit for each eligible voter to donate to a candidate of their choosing. The Democracy Credit will also be considered a small donation and will be matched at 6-to-1 for a total contribution of $175.
By requiring states to opt into the Small Donor Matching Program, this bill considerably weakens its impact. States, with a curious degree of discretion invested in Secretaries of State, can choose to use the money from the State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund for many different election-related purposes, such as election administration, voter access, or small donor matching. The inclusion of the program in FVA allows the opportunity to implement the system, show it can work, and build to further strengthen the program.
The Freedom to Vote Act is a crucial step forward in protecting the right to vote for every American. With multiple states attacking voting rights, or democracy itself, the bill will strengthen voting rights and push the needed reforms to make protections stronger and more reduce obstacles to registration and voting. This bill is likely to be the final text, with the House unlikely to change the text. Despite its differences from the For the People Act, it is a robust and achievable measure that has the support of every Democratic Senator.
Senate Majority Leader Schumer filed a cloture motion on Monday, teeing up the first procedural hurdle for the bill. As it stands, Republicans are unlikely to support this bill. Any potential support will be predicated on watering down the legislation enough that it becomes effectively meaningless if not actually harmful and counterproductive. Sen. Manchin has been assigned the impossible task of bringing the necessary 10 Republicans on board to evade a filibuster. When the inevitable failure of the cloture motion threatens to bring the Freedom to Vote Act to its knees, it will trigger a long-awaited filibuster showdown. It is imperative that Senate Democrats pursue filibuster reform to ensure their marquee legislation does not go down in flames. Securing a democracy reform carveout from the filibuster may be the only way to save and strengthen our democracy.