In early July, House Republicans introduced the American Confidence in Elections (ACE) Act, a sweeping voter suppression bill with recommendations for nationwide policy changes. Importantly, it would harness Congress’ control over Washington, D.C. to overhaul the city’s elections, exemplifying how Republicans want states to revise their own election systems.
Touted as “the most conservative election integrity bill to be seriously considered in the House in over 20 years”, the ACE Act is also the first national elections bill to root itself in the election conspiracy theories fostered by former President Donald Trump and the MAGA Republican Party over the last eight years.
In a near total contrast, the Freedom to Vote Act, first introduced by House Democrats in 2021, seeks to bolster access to the ballot box for every eligible voter across the country in pursuit of fulfilling our country’s still-aspirational democratic ideals. This week, Senate and House Democrats reintroduced the Freedom to Vote Act in response to the ACE Act’s introduction.
To better understand the dangers posed by the ACE Act, we highlight three of its most harmful provisions, outline the conspiracies or falsehoods behind the measures and compare them to the provisions in the Freedom to Vote Act; however, the two bills do not hold as many corresponding provisions that one might initially expect from competing elections bills.
What are the most restrictive provisions of the ACE Act and what is fueling them?
At its start, the ACE Act takes time to reiterate what Republicans believe the role of Congress and the federal government should be, stating, “When Congress does speak, it must devote its efforts only to resolving highly significant and substantial deficiencies to ensure the integrity of our elections. State legislatures are the primary venues to establish rules for governing elections and correct most issues.” This suggests that the issues the bill tackles are high priorities for Republicans heading into 2024.
Banning Noncitizen Voting
In a provision that exists for posturing to a right-wing base, the prohibition on noncitizens voting in federal elections is outlined, advancing an emerging trend among Republicans. This is a redundant measure as federal law already bans noncitizens from voting in federal elections. The fact that this provision is in the bill supports conspiratorial thinking that this is an ongoing issue in federal elections, however, it is proven to be incredibly rare.
A study conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice reviewed the votes of 42 jurisdictions in the 2016 election and of the 23.5 million votes tabulated, just 30 were suspected incidents of noncitizen voting. This amounts to 0.0001% of the 2016 votes in those jurisdictions.
- So, what’s fueling the provision? The manufactured concern has become a favored talking point for Republicans to cast doubt on election results across the country. In 2016, then-President-elect Donald Trump made unsubstantiated claims that voter fraud caused him to lose the popular vote. Although noncitizens cannot vote in federal elections, some states and municipalities — like California and Maryland — have allowed noncitizens to vote in local elections only. The bill also seeks to end this practice.
- What does the Freedom to Vote Act propose? It reaffirms the existing provision in the United States Code that prohibits noncitizens from voting in federal elections. But unlike the ACE Act, it also continues to allow states the freedom to decide whether or not to include noncitizens in local elections.
Prohibiting Community Ballot Collection
Also referred to as “ballot harvesting” by its critics, community ballot collection or third-party ballot assistance (most often conducted by state parties and grassroots organizations) would be banned by restricting federal funds for any state that allows it.
The practice offers a lifeline to the electoral process for vulnerable voters like Native Americans, the elderly and rural and low-income communities. Despite Republican rhetoric that this convenient voting method leads to fraud, both parties utilize third-party ballot assistance where it is allowed, and even presidential candidate Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel have endorsed it.
- So, what’s fueling the provision? Again, the root is in the rants of Trump. He has promoted a documentary that irresponsibly casts the practice as corrupt and has ranted about the unfounded security issues surrounding absentee ballots on Truth Social. The ACE Act does reference an isolated 2018 incident in North Carolina, where incomplete absentee ballots were collected, completed and submitted — by Republican campaign staffers. The provision, however, incorrectly attributes the state’s prohibition of third parties collecting ballots as the reason for the detection. In reality, a routine post-election audit caught the signature irregularities.
- What does the Freedom to Vote Act propose? The bill does not address community ballot collection. However, it does outline that third parties are allowed to provide eligible voters with absentee ballot applications.
Barring Private Funding for Election Administration
The ACE Act would also prohibit 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations from providing direct or indirect funding for a state or local government’s election administration. Election officials often rely on grants to function when federal funding is not enough. This practice was especially critical in 2020 for the many adaptations necessary to keep election workers and voters safe amid the pandemic.
- So, what’s fueling the provision? The opening line to the section reveals the origins, “[t]his section may be cited as the ‘‘End Zuckerbucks Act of 2023.’’ This is in reference to the unfounded theory that private funding, particularly in 2020, including $350 million from Mark Zuckerberg, provided an advantage to Democrats. This proposed prohibition matches the trend at the state-level to prohibit the private funding of election administration.
- What does the Freedom to Vote Act propose? The bill does not address private funding as it is a recently manufactured concern. However, the bill does expand federal funding for states that pursue “activities to ensure equitable access to democracy,” including upgrades to cybersecurity, availability of early voting, ranked-choice voting and redistricting through independent commissions.
Washington, D.C. Elections
The ACE Act would enact sweeping changes to election policy in Washington, D.C. as part of Congress’ authority over the nation’s capital. While this portion of the bill would immediately impact the city’s 700,000 residents, the changes to Washington, D.C. elections are also intended to become a model for other states to emulate.
Some specific provisions include: adding a photo ID requirement to vote; banning same-day voter registration; prohibiting community ballot collection and restricting drop boxes; barring universal mail-in voting and mandating signature verification for all mail-in ballots.
- So, what’s the root of the preoccupation? Recently, Republicans have been flexing Congress’ control over the capital every chance they get. This comes as Washingtonians continue to fight for statehood and proportional representation. Though — and perhaps because — granting statehood is a crucial battle in the path to full, fair and equitable voting rights in America, Republicans fear granting autonomy to Washington D.C. as it is likely that the new state would be predominantly Democratic.
- What does the Freedom to Vote Act propose? The bill does not address elections in the nation’s capital, nor the topic of its statehood. The controlling of Washington, D.C. elections is solely a fixation of the Republican Party.
Just as the ACE Act’s Washington D.C. provisions outline Republicans’ roadmap for elections nationwide, the Freedom to Vote Act presents Democrats’ expansive vision for states.
As a comprehensive voting rights bill, the Freedom to Vote Act would establish national voting standards, end partisan gerrymandering, tackle felony disenfranchisement, require the disclosure of top donors and create protections for nonpartisan election officials.
Specific provisions of the bill include:
- Making November Election Days a public holiday,
- Enacting automatic voter registration for each state,
- Requiring same-day voter registration and early voting periods in each state,
- Restoring the right to vote in federal elections for people who have served their time for felony convictions,
- Expanding voting protections and access requirements for disabled voters, military members and overseas voters,
- Setting specific criteria for Congressional redistricting to end partisan gerrymandering,
- Strengthening donor transparency in pursuit of ending dark money in elections and
- Establishing federal protections to insulate nonpartisan state and local officials who administer elections.
As the Freedom to Vote Act states, “Voting restrictions, redistricting, and other electoral practices and processes continue to disproportionately impact communities of color in the United States and do so as a result of both intentional racial discrimination, structural racism, and the ongoing structural socioeconomic effects of historical racial discrimination.” The bill’s provisions attempt to rectify the long standing inequities and shortcomings in our democratic process.
The ACE Act and the Freedom to Vote Act represent the vastly different election priorities of the two parties.
The ACE Act is rooted in conspiracies and debunked allegations that pander to trumped up fears and disinformation. Conversely, the Freedom to Vote Act is a more serious piece of legislation that seeks to provide solutions to problems voters face in securing accurate representation in their communities and at the ballot box.
During the House Administration Committee’s consideration of the ACE Act, Republicans opposed more than two dozen amendments brought by Democrats that would expand voting access. Their basis of opposition? States should run elections without interference from the federal government (an irony given the ACE Act’s guidelines and intentions).
As a supporter of the ACE Act, Rep. Laurel Lee (R-Fla.) said, “The government closest to the people is best to serve its needs, and our states are the ones who should be deciding specific policies, specific procedures and practices they will implement and utilize.” But Republicans aren’t extending that same deference to Washington, D.C.
Democrats, frustrated by the hypocrisy, have called the lawmakers out. Rep. Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) asked, “What happened to self-determination? We’ll micromanage only in places where we find it convenient.”
The Freedom to Vote Act faces the same fate in the Republican-majority House, but re-establishes the ways policymakers can strengthen our democracy through championing people’s fundamental right to vote.