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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Explained: What is the Freedom to Vote Act in the US?

The bill plans to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box and reduce the influence of big money in politics, and for other purposes”.

Written by Sanskriti Falor | Jaipur |
Updated: September 17, 2021 9:11:14 pm
The bill was introduced by democrats led by Amy Klobuchar, who is the Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law. (Reuters)

The Democrats introduced a new “Freedom to Vote” act in the Senate on Tuesday. When passed, it will replace the For the People Act and broadly talks about voting rights, voters’ access, voting registrations, restrictions, funds for election campaigning, etc.

The bill was introduced by democrats led by Amy Klobuchar, who is the Chairwoman of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law. Klobuchar tweeted, “The Freedom to Vote Act will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in. We can protect the right to vote and this is how we’ll get it done.”

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What is the Freedom to Vote Act?

The bill plans to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box and reduce the influence of big money in politics, and for other purposes”. The bill is being introduced in the place of, earlier introduced, For the People Act, which was also a bill to introduce new voting rights legislation.

The bill is broadly divided into Voters’ Access, Election Integrity, and Civic Participation and Empowerment. It moves to standardise the voting procedures in all the states, even the ones governed by Republicans, and give equal access to the citizens to ballot boxes.

Former President Barack Obama tweeted on Wednesday, “The Freedom to Vote Act just introduced in the Senate would strengthen our democracy by making it easier for people to vote and harder for politicians and special interests to drown out the voices of ordinary Americans. I support it, and every Senator should do the same.”

The key changes that the bill would bring in the US elections are:

Provide automatic voter registration for all citizens using 21st-century technologies and ensure all eligible citizens are registered to vote.

Make Election Day in the US, which is “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November”, a legal public holiday.

Avail and access the internet to register and update voter information and receive e-mail on voting information.

Permit voter registration application form to serve as an application for an absentee ballot.

Allow every eligible individual to register for voting on the day that the voting is taking place.

Provide greater access to voter registration and voting by people with disabilities by ensuring that electronically available absentee registration forms, absentee ballot applications, and absentee ballots and accessible to them, along with websites and assistance.

Every State to offer a 15-day early voting period, including two weekends, for no less than 10-hours every day during the period.

Let eligible voters vote without any restrictions imposed on them, even for mail ballots.

Clear and process ballots on the same day on which they are received along with providing secured drop boxes for voted ballots.

Preventing election subversion.

Along with these, the bill also talks about the protection of poll officials, workers and the privacy of citizens. It further talks about the monetary influence in elections and lays out details for transparency of funds during campaigning.

Why wasn’t For the People Act passed?

For the People Act was first introduced in 2019. It was then, and also on March 3, passed by the House of Representatives, although when a Senate version of the bill was presented, it was opposed not just by Republicans but also by Democrat and West Virginia Representative Senator Joe Manchin.

While For the People Act was also a voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act is broader and inclusive of a lot more things, like preventing election subversion — which was an issue raised by former President Donald Trump in the last elections.

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In an article published in Charleston Gazette-Mail, on why he was opposing the For the People Act, Manchin wrote, “The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics… Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.”

For a bill to be passed, there have to be 60 votes in favour of legislation for it to overcome a filibuster. So, while Democrats, other than Manchin, had supported the bill, it fell short to reach the 60-vote mark.

What’s next for the bill?

For the Freedom to Vote Act to be passed, the Democrats would need 60 votes to overcome the filibuster, a move to debate the bill and thus prevent it from being passed. With many Republicans opposing the bill, it seems difficult for it to be passed.

The Democrats, if unable to gather Republican support, would either have to let the bill go or seek a filibuster exception for the voting rights bill.

The Guardian reported, “The voting rights and election reform legislation remains of singular importance to Democrats as they seek to counter new voter restrictions in Republican-led states introduced in response to Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 presidential election.”

President Joe Biden has been against the filibuster and has even said that it is being “abused” by the Republicans.

Hence, if Democrats do not get 10 Republican votes for the bill, there is a chance that they push for filibuster reforms in the Senate.

Biden tweeted, “The sacred right to vote is under attack across the country — and we need to take urgent action to protect it. I strongly support The Freedom to Vote Act and thank the eight Senators who came together to draft it. Let’s get this passed.”

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