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Misleading claims swirl around US election overhaul bill

March 17, 2021 GMT

As Congress considers a sweeping bid to overhaul United States election laws, social media users are using inflammatory graphics to spread misinformation about it.

Viral posts this month have featured false and misleading claims about the bill’s text. Some Facebook users superimposed the claims onto posts featuring a photo of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi scowling. Others used an image of President Joe Biden, or listed claims about the bill in a checkerboard. Collectively, they have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.

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The bill, commonly known as HR 1 or the For the People Act of 2021, would ensure that voters have access to early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject as federal overreach.

The legislation also would task independent commissions with redrawing congressional districts, require political groups to disclose high-dollar donors, make new reporting requirements for online political ads and require presidents, vice presidents and candidates for those offices to disclose their tax returns.

House Democrats passed the bill earlier this month, advancing it to the Senate. Senate Democrats introduced the bill as S 1 on Wednesday.

Here’s a closer look at some of the false claims circulating about the bill:

CLAIM: The For the People Act would allow people who are in the U.S. illegally to vote.

THE FACTS: The bill proposes a range of reforms to make it easier for eligible citizens to register and vote, but it wouldn’t change federal law stating that only eligible U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections

Critics of the act have suggested its requirement for states to use automatic voter registration could result in large numbers of people who are in the country illegally being added to voter rolls. 

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Some states already use automatic voter registration, and noncitizens have been wrongly registered to vote in states with and without such programs. However, such errors have been corrected, and noncitizen voting in the U.S. is rare, experts say.

Some social media posts included the vague claim that the For the People Act would “clear the way for illegal voting.” The specific accusation here was unclear, but the bill’s text states multiple times that its measures to expand voting access are for eligible voters only.

Even as the bill would require automatic voter registration for federal elections and allow mail-in voting, it would maintain the requirement that people registering to vote must affirm they are U.S. citizens. If they lie, they can be prosecuted. 

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CLAIM: The act would allow minors to vote.

THE FACTS: The bill does not grant minors the right to vote. Instead, it says states should accept applications from minors 16 and older who want to preregister to vote, so they will be registered when they reach voting age.

The bill explicitly states that it has no effect on state voting age requirements. It would not require states to allow people under 18 to vote in federal elections.

Several states do let 17-year-old citizens vote in primary elections if they will be 18 at the time of the general election. 

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CLAIM: The act prevents removal of ineligible voters from registration rolls.

THE FACTS: The bill wouldn’t block states from maintaining and culling their voter rolls to weed out voters who have moved or died. Instead, it would add some conditions to the process to prevent the purging of eligible voters.

Specifically, the legislation would compel states to have evidence showing a voter is ineligible before removing that voter. It wouldn’t let states remove a voter just because he or she hasn’t voted in an election, or hasn’t responded to a notice.

The nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center shares data with states indicating when voters die or change residency. Under the For the People Act, states would still be able to use this resource. But they would not be able to remove a voter from their rolls without one of two things: documentation from ERIC that the voter is ineligible, or several pieces of the voter’s information (full name, birthdate, last four digits of the individual’s Social Security number). 

Except in cases where voters died, states would also have to send a notice to anyone they cut from voter lists within 48 hours explaining the reason for the removal and how it can be contested.

Critics of the bill say these conditions would add unnecessary obstacles for states trying to maintain their lists, while supporters say they would protect eligible voters from inadvertently being purged from the rolls. 

Regardless of these differing opinions, there’s no truth to claims that the legislation prevents states from removing ineligible voters.

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CLAIM: The For the People Act would force taxpayers to fund campaigns with which they disagree.

THE FACTS: One goal of the bill is to reform campaign financing by using public funds to boost small private donations to federal candidates. But this small donor matching program wouldn’t come directly from taxpayers’ pockets.

Instead, the money would come from a fee added to criminal or civil penalties and settlements from corporations or tax code violators in the highest income bracket, the bill says.

The legislation specifically outlines that “no taxpayer funds may be deposited into the Fund.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform. 

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536