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Warner, Kaine & Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Protect the Freedom to Vote and Strengthen American Democracy

Legislation would build on, enshrine into federal law many steps taken in Virginia to make voting more convenient

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined 49 of their colleagues in reintroducing the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense federal election standards and campaign finance reforms, and protect American democracy. Kaine played an instrumental role in negotiating the legislation, which includes various provisions that have already been enacted in Virginia, including automatic voter registration, same day and Election Day voter registration, online voter registration, and no excuse mail voting.

In addition to bringing Virginia’s successes to every corner of the country, the legislation would protect Virginia’s progress from potential attacks from state legislators, some of whom have already tried to make it harder for Virginians to cast their ballots. Earlier this year, a top Republican legal strategist told a roomful of donors she was optimistic that legislation making it more convenient to vote in Virginia could be undone. The introduction of the Freedom to Vote Act—which would also restore the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions after they are released from prison—comes as the Virginia NAACP calls for clarity from Virginia’s Governor regarding the process for restoring voting rights for people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences in Virginia.

“The opportunity for every American to make their voice heard is the bedrock of our democracy, but right now the very act of voting is under siege in state legislatures across the country,” said Warner. “The Freedom to Vote Act enshrines in federal law efforts to safeguard democracy from these attacks and protect Americans’ access to the ballot.”

“The strength of our democracy depends on Americans’ ability to make their voices heard,” said Kaine, who practiced civil rights law for 17 years. “The Freedom to Vote Act would help expand voting by mail, early voting, and other reforms to make voting easier. These provisions—many of which were adopted in Virginia—are broadly popular among Americans across the political spectrum and are essential to our democracy. It’s crucial that we pass this legislation to protect Virginia’s progress on the federal level, and help states across the country follow Virginia’s lead in making voting more convenient.”

The legislation reflects feedback from state and local election officials to ensure the people responsible for implementing reforms are able to do so effectively. It also elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering, and would help eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections. Summaries of how the three sections of the bill would protect Americans’ right to vote are below. Legislative text is available here.

Voter Access and Election Administration

This section includes provisions to improve 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 two weeks 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 2024 elections and at all polling locations by 2026, 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. States that do not have a voter identification requirement would not be required to make any changes.
  • 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. 

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. 

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.