House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday reintroduced an election overhaul package, in a rebuke to Republicans who, according to House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, are seeking to “turn back the clock” on democracy.
Jeffries was joined by fellow New Yorker and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and other Democratic leaders to tout the Freedom to Vote Act, which they said would expand voter access, support local election workers and limit the influence of dark money and partisan gerrymandering on elections.
“Democracy is facing unprecedented threats,” Schumer said at the news conference in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room of the Senate, surrounded by Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Tim Kaine of Virginia, as well as Minority Whip Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and other members of the House.
“Keeping our democracy is more important than anything else because everything flows from it,” Schumer continued, announcing the bills would be designated S 1, the highest legislative priority in the Senate, and HR 11, the highest legislative priority for the minority party in the House. “We know that in order to make real progress on the issues we care about, the foundation of our democracy must be strong.”
The Freedom to Vote Act would set nationwide standards to ensure voting access and expand the availability of early voting, voting by mail and drop boxes. It would provide funds for states to invest in new and more secure voting systems, stronger cybersecurity measures and additional election workers. It would also implement nonpartisan post-election audits, require super PACs and other political organizations to disclose their donors and prohibit partisan gerrymandering, among other proposals that proponents said would ward off Republican attempts to undermine democracy.
“We are locked in an existential struggle here in the United States of America, between the forces of democracy and the forces of autocracy. Between freedom and tyranny, between truth … and propaganda,” Jeffries said.
Republicans have argued that their legislation would encourage voter turnout by improving election integrity. Critics argue it would disenfranchise voters of color and allow more dark money in politics while catering to election deniers.
The Republican voting bill would overhaul existing D.C. laws, making it illegal for noncitizens to vote in local elections, ban ranked-choice voting and end the city’s practice of sending every resident a mail-in ballot whether or not they’ve requested one.
It would also shield tax-exempt organizations from donor disclosure requirements and allow the withholding of federal election grants from states that allow noncitizen voting or ballot harvesting, a practice in which political operatives collect absentee ballots from voters’ homes and drop them off at polling centers.
The ACE Act has more than 100 Republican sponsors, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., but it is not likely to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate. Schumer reiterated after the news conference that Democrats would “never allow” the Republican proposal to become law.
“MAGA extremists are working to restrict voter access, to undermine faith in our elections and to dilute the power of the Black vote,” Rep. Terri A. Sewell, an Alabama Democrat who is ranking member on the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections, said at the news conference. The House Administration Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which is chaired by Klobuchar, have jurisdiction over federal elections.
“We saw it in 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and unleashed a wave of voting restrictions all across this nation,” Sewell continued. “We saw it in 2020 when the former president spread false claims of voter fraud in an attempt to overturn a free and fair election. And we saw it last week when Republicans passed their national voter suppression bill.”
In addition to the Freedom to Vote Act, Sewell said she plans to reintroduce the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in September. That bill would restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, parts of which were invalidated in a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
The House version of the Freedom to Vote Act will be introduced by Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, who is co-chair of the U.S. House Task Force on Strengthening Democracy. It is unlikely to advance in the Republican-controlled House.
“Make no mistake, Democrats are going to keep fighting,” Schumer said. “We’re going to have to be ready to pass this legislation right out of the gate at the soonest possible opportunity.”