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What's in voting rights bill: same-day registration, election holiday

By Doug Cunningham
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What's in voting rights bill: same-day registration, election holiday
A poll worker assists a resident voting at Francis Scott Key High School in Union Bridge, Md., on Election Day 2020. File Photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 13 (UPI) -- The House on Thursday passed a major voting rights bill that aims to protect the process nationwide amid efforts by some Republican-led states to make casting a ballot more difficult. The package includes several reforms.

The legislation, officially called the Freedom To Vote Act, would enact a number of voting reforms that backers of the bill say would improve access, election integrity, civic participation and empowerment.

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Introduced by multiple Senate Democrats last September, the bill's text declares that its purpose is "to expand Americans' access to the ballot box and reduce the influence of big money in politics."

The legislation is a compromise bill after key Democrats -- most notably West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin -- refused to support the For the People Act, a broader voting rights bill introduced early last year.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., attends a hearing Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol. The Freedom to Vote Act is a compromise bill introduced after Manchin said he would not support a broader voting rights package in the Senate. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
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The suite of proposed reforms, which have no Republican supporters in the Senate, also seeks to change many other things -- such as creating automatic voter registration through each state's motor vehicle agency, ensuring that all voters have access to online voter registration and gives voters at least 15 straight days of early voting, including two weekends.

The proposal also would make Election Day a national holiday and guarantee the right to register and vote on Election Day, as long as voters meet the required qualifications.

Here are several other changes that the bill would accomplish:

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  • Provide for same-day voter registration in all states by 2024
  • Establish federal minimum standards for vote by mail and drop boxes, give voters the right to request a mail-in ballot and improve delivery of election mail. The bill makes sure that drop boxes are available and accessible.
  • Strengthen voter list maintenance standards in part by requiring that removal or purge of voter lists be done on the basis of reliable and objective evidence. The bill prohibits the use of returned mail sent by third parties to remove registered voters from the registration lists.
  • Require provisional ballots to count for all eligible races within counties, regardless of the precinct they were cast in.
  • Mandate a uniform national standard for states requiring identification for in-person voting.
  • Allow voters to present a broad set of ID cards and documents in both hard copy and digital form to be able to vote.
  • Ban disenfranchisement of voters convicted of crimes unless they are still serving felony prison sentences at the time of the election.
  • Establish federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local elections officials who help administer federal elections from undue partisan interference or control.
  • Strengthen protections for election records and infrastructure to safeguard integrity and security of ballots and voting systems.
  • Require that states use backup paper ballots for reliable audits. The bill provides federal grants for states to buy new and more secure voting systems and make cybersecurity upgrades.

The Freedom To Vote Act also bans partisan gerrymandering -- the process of states redrawing political districts, which is usually done with the express purpose of giving one political party a voter advantage.

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Additionally, the sweeping proposal aims to change laws related to political fundraising -- by requiring that contributing groups disclose donors and banning transfers between organizations that hide donor identities.

Under the law, political ads that are sold online would also have to follow the same transparency and disclosure rules as advertisements that run on TV and radio.

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The House passed the bill by a vote of 220-203 on Thursday, sending it on to the Senate. However, its fate in the upper chamber is unclear after Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., said she would not support ending the filibuster so that the Senate could pass the legislation.

Without amending the rules to end the filibuster, 60 senators would need to vote for the bill -- instead of 50, with the chamber split evenly between parties and Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, holding the tie-breaker.

This week in Washington

President Joe Biden announces how the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will rebuild America's bridges in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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