Finally, some good news from Washington! Last week Senate Democrats introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, which all 50 Democratic senators appear to support. The legislation was drafted by several senators including moderate Joe Manchin. Having objected to some provisions of the bill’s predecessor, the For the People Act, Manchin will be a vital advocate in securing final passage of the Freedom to Vote Act.
While this new bill is not as broad as the For the People Act, it includes a number of very critical provisions protecting the right to vote. Here are some of its most important articles:
- Requires every state to implement automatic voter registration,
- Makes Election Day a federal holiday,
- Permits every voter to request a mail ballot and drop it off at a secure drop box,
- Restores voting rights to anyone released from prison after serving his/her sentence,
- Creates the option for federal matching funds for House candidates,
- Requires disclosure of ‘dark money’ in the electoral process, and
- Bans partisan gerrymandering.
The Brennan Center for Justice calls the Freedom to Vote Act “the most significant democracy reform bill in a half century.”
There is, however, one major obstacle that must be overcome in order to pass this legislation. And that is, of course, the Senate filibuster. Democrats would need the support of 10 Republican senators to avoid a filibuster. While Manchin is pursuing their backing, he will almost certainly not obtain it.
Therefore, the only way for this critical bill to become law is to reform the filibuster, allowing voting rights legislation to pass by a simple majority. While Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) oppose eliminating the filibuster, they have not stated they are against creating such an exception to the filibuster.
A recent Washington Postpiece offered seven reasons to believe that the filibuster will be reformed and voting rights legislation will become law this year. Among them is that last March Manchin suggested he would be open to using the reconciliation process, which only requires a bare majority, to pass voting rights legislation if all efforts at bipartisanship failed. The huge wave of voter suppression and election subversion laws passed in GOP-controlled state legislatures since then strengthens the belief that Manchin and other Democratic moderates will come around and agree to filibuster reform.
Perhaps the most compelling reason may be the Democrats’ desire to maintain control of Congress. Without the reforms in the Freedom to Vote Act, Republicans are likely to use the current redistricting cycle “to practice the extreme gerrymandering that could give them long-term control of the House, despite having the support of only a minority of American voters.”
The future of American democracy is on the line. It is up to all of us to make sure the voting rights of all Americans are protected. Call the Capitol switchboard (202-224-3121) to contact your Democratic Member of Congress and your Senators. Demand that they do whatever is necessary to make the Freedom to Vote Act the law of the land.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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