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Why Congress Must Pass The Freedom To Vote Act

Congress must act swiftly to advance this pro-democracy legislation. The Freedom To Vote Act is a significant structural voting rights reform package that advances racial equity and moves us toward an inclusive democracy.

The Freedom to Vote Act remains a substantial racial justice package that will bring us closer to the kind of democracy we envision.

We are fighting for a democracy in which all our voices are heard and valued—an inclusive, multiracial democracy. The Freedom to Vote Act recently introduced by the Senate—a replacement for the For the People Act—is a significant step toward that kind of democracy. While it’s not everything we’ve been fighting for and there will be more work to do after we win it, the Freedom to Vote Act remains a substantial racial justice package that will bring us closer to the kind of democracy we envision.

There’s a great deal to celebrate in this package, but we’re especially excited about 3 important provisions, all of which Demos and partners have been advocating for, and none of which were guaranteed to make it into the final proposal:

  • Same Day Registration. The Freedom to Vote Act advances a suite of registration modernizations, including Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), Same Day Registration (SDR), and Online Voter Registration (OVR). But we’re especially excited about SDR, which is a critical part of a racially equitable registration system. Studies long have shown the positive impact of SDR on voter turnout overall, but our recent research on the racial equity impact of SDR now provides clear data demonstrating how SDR can boost Black and Latinx turnout specifically and, as a result, why this policy is essential to advancing a more inclusive democracy.
  • Small Donor Democracy Provisions. Just as democracy isn’t limited to the ballot box, the Freedom to Vote Act doesn’t stop at policies that promote registration and voting. It includes an entire division on “civic participation and empowerment” aimed at getting big, dark (anonymous) money out of our politics and building a small donor democracy. It does so by creating an optional small dollar matching program for House races and a “democracy credit” program that puts money in the hands of regular voters to contribute to candidates who inspire them. For years, Demos and our grassroots partners have been fighting for policies like these, which shift power in our democracy away from mostly white, monied interests and to Black and brown communities. Black and brown leaders in Baltimore and Seattle have been among the groups pioneering these reforms at the local level and charting a course for the country on how to make our democracy more inclusive and reflective.
  • Judicial Review of Burdens on the Right to Vote. The Freedom to Vote Act also incorporates new language that creates and guarantees a right to vote in federal elections. By instituting a “non-retrogression” standard—meaning states can’t make it harder to vote—and requiring heightened judicial scrutiny of burdens placed on the right to vote, this provision creates additional legal protections for the fundamental right to vote, above and beyond what we already have in federal statute and the Constitution. Demos strongly supports this provision, and we have also made the case for an affirmative, guaranteed right to vote in our federal Constitution.

These policies were not in the outline for a trimmed down version of voting rights legislation that circulated in June. It took sustained grassroots organizing and tremendous pressure from activists and organizers all over the country to ensure the new compromise bill included these and several other provisions that will advance racial equity in our democracy.

Among those other important components to advance racial equity are provisions to make voting by mail more accessible to Black and brown voters and voters with disabilities; prohibitions on flawed and discriminatory voter purges; a mandate for a robust early voting period and equitable siting of polling places; and the restoration of the voting rights of people convicted of felonies once they are released from prison (which is a great start—next up, enfranchisement for all!); among others.

Yet this bill, coupled with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Native American Voting Rights Act, and D.C. Statehood, represent the most significant suite of democracy-expanding reforms since the Civil Rights Movement and, before that, Reconstruction.

We know that no single piece of legislation is going to solve all the flaws in our democracy, which are as old and run as deep as any problem in our country. Yet this bill, coupled with the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, the Native American Voting Rights Act, and D.C. Statehood, represent the most significant suite of democracy-expanding reforms since the Civil Rights Movement and, before that, Reconstruction. And they’re advancing at the same time that the most comprehensive economic justice legislation in a generation is moving through Congress.

Black and brown-led movements across the country are demanding a transformation of our democracy and our economy. These bills reflect the tremendous power of the people to hold our elected officials to account for their promises and to bring about our vision for a more just, inclusive democracy and a more equitable economy.

Congress must end the Jim Crow filibuster and pass these transformative democracy bills now.