Padilla Co-Leads Renewed Push to Protect Freedom to Vote and Strengthen Our Democracy

The Freedom to Vote Act will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), a member of the Committee on Rules and Administration with oversight over federal elections and campaign finance law and former California Secretary of State, co-led the introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from relentless attacks.

The bill ensures the people responsible for implementing reforms are able to do so effectively by incorporating feedback from state and local election officials that the Rules Committee has heard throughout the year and by drawing on Padilla’s experience as California’s former Secretary of State overseeing federal and state elections in the most populous state in the nation. It also elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.

Key reforms that Padilla implemented and administered in California while serving as Secretary of State – including automatic voter registration, same day registration, online registration, and expanded early and mail voting opportunities – are reflected in the bill.

Padilla specifically worked to ensure that the bill sets a national voter ID standard for states that choose to adopt voter ID requirements for in-person voting, but does not force any state, including California, to require voter ID if they choose not to.

“Our democracy is under attack from Republican state legislatures across the country hellbent on suppressing the right to vote,” said Padilla. “That’s why Senate Democrats are unified in our mission to fight voter suppression and protect the integrity of our elections – the stakes are too high not to act. This bill includes proven reforms that I helped implement as California’s top elections official to make our elections more accessible and more secure – reforms that all of our Senate colleagues should support to ensure a healthy democracy.”

“The freedom to vote is fundamental to all of our freedoms. Following the 2020 elections in which more Americans voted than ever before, we have seen unprecedented attacks on our democracy in states across the country. These attacks demand an immediate federal response. With the Freedom to Vote Act, the entire voting rights working group, including Senators Manchin and Merkley, is united behind legislation that will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in. This bill will ensure Americans can request a mail-in ballot, have at least 15 days of early voting, and can register to vote on Election Day,” said Klobuchar.

“I was a civil rights lawyer for 17 years. I’ve lived through a violent attack on the Capitol by people wanting to overturn an election. And I’ve watched state legislatures scheme to reduce people’s ability to vote. I am proud to sponsor the Freedom to Vote Act because it guarantees that eligible voters anywhere in this country get access to the ballot,” said Kaine.

“Any threat to the democratic process is a threat to democracy itself,” said King. “In the face of state-level threats that undercut the fundamental right to vote for millions of Americans, we must act now to protect our democracy. Our bill would set commonsense minimum standards to ensure that no state infringes upon its citizens’ right to vote and confront widespread anti-democratic practices such as partisan gerrymandering and dark money spending. Free, fair and open elections are the backbone of our national commitment to government of the people, by the people, and for the people – and through this legislation, we will do our part to pass this experiment in self-government on to the next generation of Americans.”

“The right to vote is fundamental to our Democracy and the Freedom to Vote Act is a step in the right direction towards protecting that right for every American. As elected officials, we also have an obligation to restore peoples’ faith in our Democracy, and I believe that the commonsense provisions in this bill – like flexible voter ID requirements – will do just that,” said Manchin.

“All seven of us working on this bill are committed to an America where all citizens have a right to cast a vote and have their vote counted,” said Merkley. “This bill ensures that no matter where we live or which party we support, all of us have an equal chance to shape the big decisions in our country by ending partisan gerrymandering, stopping billionaires from buying elections, and ensuring all of us have the same chance to cast our ballot. I hope our Republican colleagues will support Americans’ freedom to vote, but one way or another we must stand up for Americans’ constitutional rights.”

“Free and fair elections are a cornerstone of our democracy, plain and simple. This bill will allow us to maintain local control over our voting systems while keeping our elections safe in the face of new and evolving threats, shine a light on dark money in politics, and close loopholes that allow foreign spending on elections. It’s our responsibility to ensure that every eligible Montanan is able to make their voice heard at the ballot box, and I’m proud this legislation will do that,” said Tester.

“Voting rights are preservative of every other right. The power of people voting is what has made it possible for Congress to pass expansive pandemic relief and take up landmark legislation to create jobs, move our economy forward and invest in our nation’s future,” said Warnock. “As access to the ballot remains under threat for voters in Georgia and states across the nation, I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to introduce the Freedom to Vote Act that will protect the sacred right to vote for every eligible American, no matter where they live, and enact commonsense democracy reforms that will help ensure our government remains by and for the people. I hope senators on both sides of the aisle will support this bill and that the Senate can pass it with urgency. We are at an inflection point in our history, and future generations will judge how we act to preserve our democracy.”

The Freedom to Vote Act is sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and co-sponsored by Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (I-ME), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-GA). The Freedom to Vote Act is the product of the working group assembled and led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

This bill includes three sections, each intended to protect the right to vote and strengthen our democracy.

I. Voter Access and Election Administration

This section includes provisions to advance voter access by implementing reliable state best practices for voter registration and election administration to ensure all Americans can easily exercise their freedom to vote regardless of where they live.

  • Automatic Voter Registration and Online Voter Registration: Enacts an automatic voter registration system for each state through the state’s motor vehicle agency and ensures voters in all states have access to online voter registration.
  • Election Day Holiday: Makes Election Day a public holiday.
  • Uniform Early Voting: Ensures voters have access to at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections, including two weekends, while accommodating small election jurisdictions and vote-by-mail jurisdictions.
  • Same Day Voter Registration: Ensures every state offers same day registration at a limited number of locations for the 2022 elections and at all polling locations by 2024, allowing election officials, especially in rural areas, time to implement the new requirements.
  • Federal Minimum Standards on Vote by Mail and Drop Boxes: Ensures all voters can request a mail-in ballot, improves the delivery of election mail, and puts in place minimum standards to ensure drop boxes are available and accessible to all voters.
  • Strengthens Voter List Maintenance Standards: Requires that the removal of voters from the rolls is done on the basis of reliable and objective evidence and prohibits the use of returned mail sent by third parties to remove voters. 
  • Counting of Provisional Ballots: Requires provisional ballots to count for all eligible races within a county, regardless of the precinct they were cast in.
  • Standards for Voter Identification: Promotes voter confidence and access by requiring a uniform national standard for states that require identification for in-person voting, and allowing voters to present a broad set of identification cards and documents in hard copy and digital form.
  • Voting Rights Restoration for Returning Citizens: Restores the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison.
  • Expanded Voting Access Protections for the Disabled, Native Americans, Military, Overseas Voters, and Underserved Communities: Includes targeted protections to promote accessible voting to communities facing unique challenges.

II. Election Integrity

This section includes measures to promote confidence in elections, stop partisan election subversion, and protect against election interference, both foreign and domestic.

  • Preventing State Election Subversion: Establishes federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control.
  • Protection of Election Records, Election Infrastructure, and Ballot Tabulation: Strengthens protections for federal election records and election infrastructure in order to protect the integrity and security of ballots and voting systems.
  • Voter-Verified Paper Ballots, Reliable Audits, and Voting System Upgrades: Requires states to use voting systems that use paper ballots that can be verified by voters and to implement reliable post-election audits. Also provides grants for states to purchase new and more secure voting systems and make cybersecurity improvements.
  • Non-Partisan Election Official Recruitment and Training: Tasks the Election Assistance Commission with developing model training programs to recruit a new generation of election workers and provides dedicated grants for training and recruitment.
  • Comprehensive Voting System Security Protections: Puts in place election vendor cybersecurity standards, including standards for manufacturing and assembling voting machines, among other key security measures.
  • Establishing Duty to Report Foreign Election Interference: Creates a reporting requirement for federal campaigns to disclose certain foreign contacts.

III. Civic Participation and Empowerment

This section includes provisions to prevent partisan manipulation of the redistricting process, establishes uniform disclosure standards for money in politics, and empowers states to make critical investments in their election systems.

  • Non-Partisan Redistricting Reform and Banning Partisan Gerrymandering: Requires states to abide by specific criteria for congressional redistricting and makes judicial remedies available for states’ failure to comply. Allows states to choose how to develop redistricting plans, including the option of having an independent redistricting commission.
  • Combatting Secret Money and Election Interference (DISCLOSE Act and Honest Ads Act): Requires super PACs, 501(c)(4) groups, and other organizations spending money in elections to disclose donors and shuts down the use of transfers between organizations to cloak the identity of contributors. Ensures that political ads sold online have the same transparency and disclosure requirements as ads sold on TV, radio, and satellite.
  • State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund: Establishes a self-sustaining fund to finance critical investments in state-led innovations for our democracy and election infrastructure. The fund is financed through an additional assessment paid on federal fines, penalties, and settlements for certain tax crimes and corporate malfeasance. States would be allotted an annual distribution for eligible democracy and election-related investments. States could select to access their full distribution or a partial distribution, or roll over their distribution for future use.
  • Nonpartisan Oversight of Federal Election Law: Improves the ability of the Federal Election Commission to carry out oversight and enforcement responsibilities.
  • Stopping Illicit Super PAC Coordination: Creates “coordinated spender” category to ensure single-candidate super PACs do not operate as arms of campaigns.

Full text of the bill can be found HERE.