Editorials, Opinion

What it means for everyone to have the freedom to vote

The Senate is now considering the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. There’s a lot of talk of what these bills could mean for our country, but what do they actually do? We’ll look at the Freedom to Vote Act for now.

According to its congressional summary: “the [Freedom to Vote Act] expands voter registration (e.g., automatic and same-day registration) and voting access (e.g., vote-by-mail and early voting). It also limits removing voters from voter rolls. … establishes Election Day as a federal holiday. … declares that the right of a U.S. citizen to vote in any election for federal office shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless, at the time of the election, such individual is serving a felony sentence. … sets forth provisions related to election security, including by requiring states to conduct post-election audits for federal elections. … outlines criteria for congressional redistricting and generally prohibits mid-decade redistricting. … addresses campaign finance, including by expanding the prohibition on campaign spending by foreign nationals, requiring additional disclosure of campaign-related fundraising and spending, requiring additional disclaimers regarding certain political advertising, and establishing an alternative campaign funding system for certain federal offices.”

Specifically, it standardizes mail-in voting practices to make sure that mail-in and absentee voting is equally accessible to everyone. This way, there can be no accusations of impropriety because one state doesn’t like that another state has a later deadline or different criteria for accepting absentee ballots.

In his essay over the weekend, Sec. Warner called out Michigan for accepting mail-in ballots without signatures. Michigan allows for “curing” ballots. If an absentee ballot is received with a defect, an unrecognizable signature or without a signature, the local election officials must try to reach the voter and give them an opportunity to fix, or “cure,” the ballot. This bill outlines the how the ballot may be legally cured, and makes it a national practice.

It also sets standards to what kind of voter ID is considered acceptable. “Suppressive” voter ID laws are ones like Georgia has, where voters must present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote a regular ballot, or like Louisiana, where voters have to provide a photo ID that also shows their signature. The Freedom to Vote Act expands the list of acceptable IDs — such as SNAP cards, hunting and fishing licenses, concealed carry permits, Medicaid cards and high school/college IDs, among others — and sets the procedures for voting a provisional ballot.

In another response to Georgia, the Freedom to Vote Act mandates polling places be adequately staffed and equipped so voters do not have to wait more than 30 minutes to cast a ballot, after early voters waited upwards of five hours in 2020. Georgia legislators also severely limited the number of drop boxes available in the Atlanta-metro area for the 2021 fall elections, making it more difficult for voters to turn in their ballots. This bill will require 1 drop box for every 45,000 voters, and it gives guidance for acceptable locations.

The Freedom to Vote Act sets the bare minimum that states should do to make voting accessible to all eligible citizens. Want to have more early voting days than the bill requires? Go for it. Feel like letting all felons vote, even if they are still incarcerated? No problem. There is still state control — but everyone, regardless of location, receives the same minimum access to the vote.

The Freedom to Vote Act reaffirms the right to vote by codifying voter protections and outlining policies and procedures to ensure voting is done securely, with the least possibility of fraud.