Americans’ freedom to vote is foundational to our representative democracy — a freedom that has been hard won. The United States has a long, ugly history of denying eligible segments of our society access to the ballot box based on race, gender, and other discriminatory factors. In recognition of such abuses, Congress gave the federal government the authority to step in when warranted with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In recent years, however, state legislatures and courts have severely undermined protections created by Congress to protect Americans’ freedom to vote. The Supreme Court struck down key provisions in the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and 2020. Meanwhile, legislators in states around the nation continue to lead an unprecedented assault on democracy, using election disinformation to further entrench their power by putting election administration under partisan control and passing measures with extreme anti-voting provisions.
It’s time for Congress to once again act to protect one of our most fundamental and sacred rights.
Several bipartisan pieces of legislation exist to protect Americans’ freedom to vote.
The Voting Rights Act (VRA) has a long history of bipartisan support and was last reauthorized by the Senate unanimously in 2006. However, recent Supreme Court decisions have struck down pieces of the act that required updating, while still affirming the constitutionality of the VRA itself.
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4), crafted in compromise with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would prevent discriminatory voting policies and make sure that changes to voting laws that could discriminate against voters based on race or background are federally reviewed by restoring the VRA.
The bill would:
- Create new criteria to determine what states and political subdivisions have a history of voting rights violations that will require them to prove that their proposed voting laws do not have a discriminatory intent before they can make changes
- Address instances of voting discrimination that have become more prevalent or haven’t been previously addressed by the VRA
- Require the states and political subdivisions to notify the public of changes to voting practices
- Creates provisions to overturn voting practices that have a discriminatory impact, even if they do not necessarily have a discriminatory intent
A complementary, compromise piece of voting legislation, called the Freedom to Vote Act (S.2747) and crafted by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and others after receiving bipartisan input, includes commonsense proposals supported by voters across the political spectrum.
The Freedom to Vote Act would:
- Set minimum national standards to protect the right to the vote, including early and mail voting
- Modernize voter registration
- Restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people
- Prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts
- Create new safeguards against subversion of the electoral process
- Creates baseline national standards that supersede more restrictive state voting rules
- Strengthens the legal standards for challenging laws that unduly burden voting rights, making it easier to win lawsuits when rights are violated
The bill would also begin to reform our broken campaign finance system and improve election administration with provisions to:
- Standardize the law for political ads on the internet with TV, radio, and satellite political ads with the Honest Ads
- Close the loophole that effectively allows super PAC-candidate coordination
- Place restrictions on the partisan removal of election administrators
- Develop universal guidelines for poll worker training
- Create a system for all political committees to report contacts with foreign entities to the Department of Justice and Federal Election Commission
- Give cybersecurity grants for state and local election system to update their infrastructure with the best available technology
- Give states the opportunity to receive funds to carry out democracy promotion activities