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Members of Congress to Introduce Legislation to Address Some Voter Suppression Concerns

Photo courtesy of George Miller

After widespread reports of long lines and problems with voting on Election Day, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) announced that he will introduce legislation that will help address at least part of the problem. Miller's bill, called the Streamlining and Improving Methods at Polling Locations and Early (SIMPLE) Voting Act, would:

  • Require all states to provide for a minimum of 15 days of early voting in federal elections.
  • Require states to ensure that each voting precinct has sufficient poll workers, voting machines and other resources to ensure that voting lines do not exceed one hour, whether on Election Day or during periods of early voting.
  • Require states to have contingency plans in place to resolve situations in which long lines nevertheless develop.

This year's election snafus led to a number of civil rights organizations calling for an improvement in access to voting, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Miller spoke to the need for the legislation:

The right to vote is among our nation’s most sacred rights, surely we can do a better job of ensuring that voters do not have to choose between meeting their daily responsibilities to their families or employers and exercising this solemn responsibility. There are a number of well-documented impediments to voting that must be corrected. My bill is in no way intended to solve all of our voting problems, but it does offer two simple and clear-cut solutions that experts agree will make voting easier and help to reduce inexcusably long wait times for people casting their ballots in person.

Americans shouldn’t have to wait for hours and hours to cast a ballot—and the fact that they had to do so in the 2012 election is absolutely unacceptable. Voting is one of the most fundamental rights in our democracy and we must ensure that that right is protected. What we’re proposing here is a very simple solution. We’re saying give voters in every state the opportunity to vote early so that they won’t be left out on account of a last minute illness, a change in work schedules, or unavoidable emergencies, and make sure that there are enough resources on Election Day so that voters casting their ballots in person are not forced to choose between waiting hours to vote or not voting at all.

In the Senate, Chris Coons (D-Del.) is introducing the Louis L. Redding Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012, which would offer states new federal grants if they made voting faster and easier. The bill would reward states that:

  • Provide flexible registration opportunities, including same-­day registration;
  • Provide early voting, at a minimum of nine of the 10 calendar days preceding an election;
  • Provide absentee voting, including no-­excuse absentee voting;
  • Provide assistance to voters who do not speak English as a primary language;
  • Provide assistance to voters with disabilities, including visual impairment;
  • Provide effective access to voting for members of the armed services;
  • Provide formal training of election officials, including state and county administrators and volunteers;
  • Audit and reduce waiting times at the poorest performing polling stations; and
  • Create contingency plans for voting in the event of a natural or other disaster.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is co-sponsoring the bill and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is introducing the bill in the House. Coons said:

My hope is that accountability to their own voters, their constituents, will encourage governors and electoral commissions and secretaries of state and county elected officials of both parties across the country to take responsible action to deal with the widely reported and very real voter access problems of this last election. I recognize that in many states, this is an issue of state partisan politics, but I think the Department of Justice, ever since the Voting Rights Act, has had a proud history of leading efforts nationally to ensure enfranchisement.

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