After the filibuster was used to block the For The People Act for a second time, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin spent weeks working with a group of 9 other Senators to put together compromise legislation that could garner bipartisan support, and that included common sense reforms with support from both parties. On Monday of last week, Senator Manchin’s bill, the Freedom To Vote Act, was introduced on the senate floor. One of the most exciting aspects of this bill from the standpoint of young people is that it mandates all college campuses across the country as polling locations.
“The Freedom to Vote Act is, and will be when it passes, the most powerful campaign finance reform and voting rights legislation that we have seen in this country in decades,” Shana Gallagher, the West Virginia organizing director for Un-PAC, said.
Gallagher said this bill will improve voter access and election administration.
“The legislation includes really important reforms around how young people, especially, can register to vote and access the vote,” Gallagher said. “The bill includes automatic and same day voter registration. I cannot stress enough, as someone who has worked on running student organizing programs on various presidential campaigns, how much of a barrier not being able to register to vote on election day is for young people.”
Gallagher said young people often go to school in a place that is different from where they are registered to vote or did not register in time.
“We are really excited about those specific reforms within the bill – it also mandates polling locations on college campuses,” Gallagher said. “It will drastically increase the access that young people have to voting in elections and registering to vote.”
Emma Marshall, a senior ceramics major, said she feels that is important for college students to have their voices heard in elections, and that she supports the Freedom to Vote Act.
“I’m tired of our politicians not taking action on things that we care about as young people such as racial discrimination, voter suppression, and especially in rural areas like West Virginia, we have a lot of places where it feels inaccessible for young people to vote,” Marshall said. “It’s very important that we get our voices out there because we are the front runners of the next generation.”
Marshall said her favorite aspect of the bill is mandating polling locations on college campuses such as Marshall University.
“It’s very important that we have polling locations on campus because lots of students have very busy schedules. For example, I am in three studio art classes and I’m constantly busy and constantly going from place to place so I think it’s really important that we have accessible places for students like me so that we can just pop in and vote,” Marshall said.
Page 122 of the legislation states, “In the case of a jurisdiction that includes an institution of higher education, the State or jurisdiction shall ensure that an appropriate number of polling places which allow voting during the early voting period,” and under sub section (b), “…will be located on the campus of the 25 institutions of higher education…”
In addition to same-day voter registration and making college campuses a polling location, the bill makes Election Day a federal holiday.
“One of the major obstacles for working people, young people, and disproportionally people of color voting on election day are that they have school, work, or multiple jobs and it’s just not convenient,” Gallagher said. “If you basically have nothing else to do except for vote on Election Day, that’s really going to increase the amount of people voting.”
Gallagher said the bill also institutes uniform early voting in all 50 states which ensures that voters have access to at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections including two weekends.
“Imagine a world in which there is a polling location on campus that has two weeks of early voting, including weekends, and there are no classes on Election Day,” Gallagher said. “That is going to be such a change for young people who normally have to sometimes drive three hours back to their home county to vote on election day.”