The Freedom to Vote Act: An Explainer

Explainers: Democracy Districting Elections Government Voting Rights
The Freedom to Vote Act - Democracy Explainer

What is the Freedom to Vote Act?

The “Freedom to Vote Act,” largely based on the For the People Act and introduced in 2021 as S. 2747, proposes a sweeping set of reforms to dramatically improve the way our democracy works. Its proposed reforms seek to enhance election administration and security, voting access, redistricting, and campaign finance.

Federal voting rights legislation has been critical to protecting the right to vote and making our democracy more reflective of the people and their will:

The Freedom to Vote Act seeks to expand eligible Americans’ access to the ballot and fight corruption. 

How would the Freedom to Vote Act change voting and election policy?

Voting Rights

By definition, democracy requires participation of its people – all its people. A healthy democracy promotes participation and reduces barriers that prevent people from voting. The United States is one of the few democracies in the world that puts the burden of participation on individual voters rather than on the governments that are supposed to represent and serve them. 

The Freedom to Vote Act addresses discriminatory policies that keep eligible voters from casting a ballot. Specifically, the Act proposes:

  • Establishing new protections for Native American voters
  • Improving election accessibility for people with disabilities 
  • Protecting against voter intimidation
  • Guaranteeing the right to vote to people with past convictions

Each of these reforms, especially when paired with the election administration reforms, would, as Duke Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles said, “shift the burden of finding access to voting from the individual to the state.” 

Election Administration

The Freedom to Vote Act would establish a strong federal standard for ballot access, voter protection, and election security. Specifically, the Act proposes the following reforms:

  • Ensuring every state offers voter registration best practices. The U.S. has persistently low voter registration, which is the first barrier to voting as it is required by every state but North Dakota in order to vote. The Act would ensure every state implements:
  • Protecting voter registration records. When a person registers to vote, their registration is recorded on a voter roll, which is a list of all registered voters. If a person’s name is not on a voter roll and the state does not offer same day registration, the voter is typically prohibited from casting a ballot.

While it is important to ensure voter rolls are maintained and cleaned, there are best practices for doing so to ensure no registered voter has their registration unintentionally canceled. Voter rolls are maintained by local and/or state officials. Since the Shelby Co. v. Holder decision in 2013, many officials have abused the practice by canceling registrations, overwhelmingly from marginalized communities, under the guise of voter roll cleaning. 

Between 2020 and 2022, alone, more than 19 million voters had their registrations canceled and were purged from the voter rolls. The Freedom to Vote Act offers protection against voter roll purges that disenfranchise registered voters. 

  • Increasing access to voting and protections for voters. The Act would mandate that every state offers:
    • Access to provisional voting should a voter’s eligibility be in question
    • Two weeks of early voting
    • No-excuse mail-in voting 
    • Ballot curing, to enable voters to fix any minor issue on their ballot
    • A reduced maximum wait time for those in line at polling places

Each of these reforms has proven successful in at least 20 states. Together, they would significantly contribute to more equitable elections.

  • Strengthening the safety and security of elections. To mitigate and protect against hacks, fraud, and other threats, the Bill:
  • Requires states to begin counting early votes and mail-in votes before Election Day to streamline the processing and counting of ballots to determine election results 
  • Prohibits paperless voting systems 
  • Requires election technology vendor oversight 
  • Strengthens cybersecurity measures to protect voting information
  • Requires transparent post-election audits
  • Funding state and local election boards with the resources necessary to implement reforms.


The Freedom to Vote Act addresses the problem of partisan and racially biased gerrymandering, which is the drawing of political maps in favor of one party. States undergo the redistricting process, the drawing of new political maps, every ten years based on population counts from the U.S. Census

Each state has a different process for redistricting; however, most redistricting processes enable legislators to manipulate maps in their party’s favor, entrenching partisan rule and often discriminating by reducing the political power of communities of color. This practice deeply threatens the core tenets of our democracy: responsiveness, representation, equality, and accountability. The Bill:

  • Lists specific, prioritized criteria to follow when drawing districts 
  • Requires all plans be subjected to measurements of partisan and racial impact studies before they can be approved
  • Offers clear and fast-tracked avenues for remedying and redrawing unfair and gerrymandered districts in the federal court system

Campaign Finance Reform

The Freedom to Vote Act takes aim at the undue influence of wealthy donors in American politics, leveling the playing field for candidates from more diverse backgrounds, and empowering average voters. The Act would:

  • Require greater transparency from campaigns
  • Impose stricter rules on campaign contact with foreign nationals
  • Require disclosure of large donors previously shielded through organizations like SuperPACs
  • Close loopholes used to donate anonymously
  • Impose strict rules on digital platforms selling campaign ads
  • Introduce a campaign public financing system that matches donations up to specific limits thereby increasing the impact of small donors
  • Update the Federal Election Commission (FEC) enforcement procedures to prohibit partisan gridlock and more effectively investigate campaign finance issues and enforce relevant sanctions.

Why are we talking about the Freedom to Vote Act now?

After the For the People Act failed to pass in 2019 and again in early 2021, legislators reintroduced an updated version, The Freedom to Vote Act, in late 2021. Shortly thereafter, it was combined with the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to create The Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act

The combined bill passed in the House of Representatives 220-203, and was sent to the Senate. 

Due to current Senate Filibuster rules, a minimum of 60 votes are needed to avoid or end a filibuster, even if the bill had enough votes to pass in an official vote. This is called cloture. In a 49-51 cloture vote, the bill didn’t receive the necessary votes to be brought to an official vote on the bill. This brought an immediate challenge to the current Senate rules to at least restore an earlier version of the filibuster – the talking filibuster – in which lawmakers who wished to block a vote would actually have to speak for as long as they could on the Senate floor to delay a vote, rather than just threaten to do it. The vote to change Senate rules did not pass.

Thus, The Freedom to Vote: John R Lewis Act was never brought to a simple majority vote in the Senate.

The Freedom to Vote Act was reintroduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2023 and immediately stalled. Because the filibuster stays intact, a small group of Senators continues to be enabled to block a vote on the bill.

The Freedom to Vote Act is critical to the future of our democracy, and therefore, will likely be reintroduced as many times as it takes until it passes. 

How you can support the Freedom to Vote Act!

Rock the Vote and many other voting rights advocacy organizations strongly support the Freedom to Vote Act as a major step toward a more fair, true, and representative democracy.

The bill will only pass if Congress knows that we, the people, support it. That’s why we need your help moving this essential legislation forward. Contact your Representatives and Senators now and make sure they know this legislation is important to you. To take action, you can call, email, or write letters. You can find your elected officials’ contact information here.

Originally published as “The For the People Act: An Explainer” on March 3, 2021. Updated to “The Freedom to Vote Act: An Explainer” on April 4, 2024