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The Freedom to Vote Act would create national standards for registering voters and casting ballots in person and by mail. A vote in the U.S. Senate Oct. 20 failed to move the legislation forward amid Republican opposition.
The legislation includes a provision to require all states to adopt automatic voter registration of eligible citizens, which many states already use.
Citizens who access government services at a motor-vehicle agency would have their information automatically transferred for voter registration unless they decline to allow it.
Senate Democrats are trying to rewrite national rules for voting, drawing attacks from conservatives who say state legislatures should be allowed to control the rules for registering voters and casting ballots.
One Facebook post suggests two Democrat-backed efforts "automatically registers ineligible voters."
"Senate Democrats are continuing their crusade against election integrity this week," read the Oct. 19 post from Heritage Action, an affiliate of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The Senate voted 49-51 on Oct. 20 to debate the Freedom to Vote Act legislation, falling short of the needed votes to proceed. Republicans opposed the bill and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer at the last minute changed his vote to "no," a move that enables him to move that the legislation be reconsidered at some point in the future.
In its post, Heritage Action calls the Freedom to Vote Act the "Freedom to Cheat Act" and nicknames an earlier version, the For the People Act, as "The Corrupt Politicians Act." Both bills, the post says, would "automatically register ineligible voters."
These characterizations are wrong.
While there is a provision in the Freedom to Vote Act that requires states to offer automatic voter registration, the goal is to make it easier for eligible citizens to register at their state motor-vehicle offices, and the wording in the bill repeatedly clarifies that only eligible citizens can vote in federal elections.
We previously rated False a claim that the For the People Act would register millions of undocumented immigrants. The Freedom of the Vote Act wouldn’t do that either.
"States will not have to enroll ineligible voters," said Matthew Weil, an elections expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "The text of the bill clearly lays out that this is a process only for eligible individuals, and it’s a transfer of info from the DMV to election officials."
Automatic voter registration "is less automatic than its detractors make it out to be," he said.
The automatic voter registration provision in the Freedom to Vote Act would expand a practice that is already in place in more than one dozen states, including blue states such as California and red states such as West Virginia.
The practice stems from the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which required most states to provide citizens with an opportunity to register to vote when applying for or renewing a driver’s license at a DMV or using services at other state agencies. In states that have adopted automatic voter registration, that ensures that the process is electronic and automatic.
While the legislation specifically applies to federal elections, as a practical matter states don’t use a separate process for registration for state elections, so the provision on automatic voter registration would apply broadly. This part of the legislation was written to take effect in January 2023.
Under the Freedom to Vote Act, citizens who access government services at a motor-vehicle agency would have their information automatically transferred for voter registration unless they decline to register. This is referred to as an "opt out" provision.
The proposed legislation repeatedly says that automatic voter registration applies to eligible citizens.:
The legislation states that the goal is to "enable the state governments to register all eligible citizens to vote" and to protect and enhance the integrity "of the electoral process for all eligible citizens."
For agencies that request applicants to affirm United States citizenship, the agency "shall inform each such individual who is a citizen" that "unless that individual declines to register to vote, or is found ineligible to vote, the individual will be registered to vote...."
The legislation expressly bars an agency from providing an opportunity to register to vote if the individual didn’t "affirm United States citizenship" or if the agency has evidence that "the individual is not a United States citizen."
Within 10 days of a transaction with an "eligible individual" at the DMV, the agency shall electronically transmit information to state election officials including "information showing that the individual is a citizen of the United States."
For any agency that does not request that individuals affirm citizenship, the legislation has a separate process. The bottom line is that the legislation doesn’t change the federal law that only eligible citizens are allowed to register to vote.
Asked about the Facebook post, Noah Weinrich, a spokesperson for Heritage Action, said the bill’s opt-out system means it will "inevitably include some ineligible voters like noncitizens who interact with agencies like the DMV. The bill does not contain adequate safeguards against registering ineligible voters."
As evidence, Weinrich pointed to concerns by immigration advocates. Advocates told NBC in April that they feared noncitizens in the country legally on work visas or green cards could inadvertently face serious consequences including deportation if the law led to them being mistakenly registered.
Weinrich cited California as an example of how noncitizens can end up registered to vote through automatic voter registration. ABC News reported that as many as 1,500 noncitizens were registered, which officials traced back to a programming flaw.
But the legislation states that noncitizens who end up registered to vote shall not be prosecuted or face immigration consequences if it was due to "individual or agency error" or did not make an affirmation of citizenship.
We have found other examples of noncitizens registering or casting ballots. In 2017, Pennsylvania officials said they found 544 ballots potentially cast by noncitizens in elections dating back to 2000 — out of about 93 million ballots cast. That’s about 1 out of every 172,000 ballots.
These glitches are rare and easily detectable and fixable, David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, previously told us.
"Those are system glitches, technical problems that absolutely should be fixed. Proving citizenship would not fix them. They were problems in how the systems were designed and they were fixed," he said.
Heritage Action said the Freedom to Vote Act "automatically registers ineligible voters."
Heritage Action points to the automatic voter registration provision, which would forward individuals’ information from the DMV to state election officials unless they opt out of registering to vote. But this provision repeatedly states that only eligible citizens are allowed to register to vote.
Noncitizens have wrongly ended up on voter registration rolls in states that have adopted automatic voter registration. But experts say such errors are rare, and could happen even without automatic voter registration.
The post ignores the language of the law and goes too far by suggesting that the bill would automatically register ineligible voters.
We rate this statement False.
Heritage Action, Facebook post, Oct. 19, 2021
Heritage Action, Issue tool kit Save our Elections, Accessed Oct. 20, 2021
ABC News, 1,500 noncitizens may have been registered to vote in California DMV error, Oct. 9, 2018
Associated Press, Pennsylvania finds 544 possibly illegal ballots since 2000, Oct. 25, 2018
The Hill, Technical glitch results in hundreds of invalid voter registrations in Illinois, Jan. 2, 2020
National Conference of State Legislatures, Automatic Voter Registration, Feb. 8, 2021
PolitiFact, Pence falsely says if HR 1 passes, millions of people in US illegally will be registered to vote, March 5, 2021
PolitiFact, H.R. 1 does not give immigrants illegally in the country the right to vote, March 31, 2021
PolitiFact, Donald Trump Jr. tweets misleading 2012 headline about Florida noncitizen voters, Nov. 13, 2018
Email interview, Danielle Lang, director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, Oct. 20, 2021
Email interview, Matthew Weil, director of the elections project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Oct. 20, 2021
Email interview, Noah Weinrich, spokesperson for Heritage Action for America, Oct. 20, 2021
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