This week, the White House and Congress have continued ongoing negotiations regarding election reform and the pending Freedom to Vote Act of 2021 (S. 2747) and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (S. 4).
The Freedom to Vote Act represents a compromise on previous voting proposals related to election administration, including the For the People Act (H.R. 1) and the election reform framework released by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) earlier this year. In addition to making Election Day a federal holiday, if enacted the bill would:
- Expand early voting options nationwide and access to mail-in ballots
- Require states to offer online voter registration, implement same-day registration, establish automatic voter registration, and restore felon voting rights
- Limit certain list maintenance practices, including the reason an election official can cancel an individual’s voter registration, and outlines conditions for removing voters through interstate cross-checks
- Provide grants for poll worker training and recruitment
- Establish a State Election Assistance and Innovation Fund to cover the costs of election-related investments in which states would apply and receive funding, which could then be sub-granted to counties
- Require the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to make Voting System Security Improvement Grants available to states to acquire goods and services from qualified election infrastructure vendors, promote cyber and risk mitigation training as well as cybersecurity capabilities, and maintain election infrastructure and provide any necessary upgrades and improvements
The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would expand and restore certain protections granted by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If enacted, the bill would:
- Establish a new coverage formula for states and jurisdictions with repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25-years and would require those entities to receive prior approval, or “preclearance,” before making any voting changes
- Codify and establish new legal standards for vote dilution and vote denial claims
- Expand protections for election workers, polling places, and other election infrastructure and the Attorney General’s authority to assign federal election observers
On January 13, the U.S. House voted by party lines to send a legislative vehicle (H.R. 5746) containing both the Freedom to Vote Act and John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to the U.S. Senate. This move will allow the U.S. Senate to proceed to debate on the bills by a simple majority vote, however it is expected that Senate Republicans will filibuster this legislation. With an evenly divided chamber, Democrats currently do not have the 60 votes needed to end debate and move to final passage. There have been ongoing discussions between the White House and Senate Democrats about establishing a carve-out to the filibuster rule for voting rights legislation. This, however, would require all 50 Senate Democrats to be on board and both Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have publicly rejected this plan.
The county role in administering elections is vital to our democratic process, beginning well before Election Day and continuing long after votes are cast. While states play an integral role in our nation’s elections performing administrative duties such as developing statewide voter registration databases, counties and local governments run elections on the ground. Elections are broken down to local precincts for voting and administration making local governments responsible for carrying out various key functions that are integral to day-to-day operations.
With almost 9,000 local elections officials in the country, they must all work to preserve the integrity and security of America’s elections by overseeing the allocation of voting machines, management of polling locations, recruitment and training of poll works as well as ensuring the accessibility and efficiency of the voting process. In addition to mitigating the traditional “hard security” risks, technology has also presented the challenge of protecting against cybersecurity threats. The duties of counties in our elections process are vast and often costly, especially when these requirements are imposed by the federal government.