U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, introduced legislation Thursday to make substantial improvements in the states' administration of their elections to make voting faster and more accessible to all voters. The Louis L. Redding Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012 would create a competitive grant program in the model of Race to the Top, encouraging states to aggressively pursue election reform. The states that demonstrate the most comprehensive and promising reform plans will earn a greater portion of the grant funding.
"Too many voters waited far too long to cast their ballots in this last election," Senator Coons said. "Long lines are a form of voter disenfranchisement, a polling place running out of ballots is a form of voter suppression, and making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of voters' civil rights. This is the United States of America and the right to vote is in our DNA: we have to get this right. The FAST Voting Act is a creative way to jumpstart states' election reform efforts and ensure that what happened last week doesn't happen again."
The bill was introduced just over a week after an Election Day that saw extraordinarily long lines and a myriad of voting issues in more than a dozen states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Virginia, South Carolina, Montana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Arizona, Rhode Island and more.
This bill authorizes a federal program that would award grants based on how well applicant states are able to improve access to the polls in at least nine specified ways, including:
Providing flexible registration opportunities, including same-day registration;
Providing early voting, at a minimum of 9 of the 10 calendar days preceding an election;
Providing absentee voting, including no-excuse absentee voting;
Providing assistance to voters who do not speak English as a primary language;
Providing assistance to voters with disabilities, including visual impairment;
Providing effective access to voting for members of the armed services;
Providing formal training of election officials, including State and county administrators and volunteers;
Auditing and reducing waiting times at polling stations; and
Creating contingency plans for voting in the event of a natural or other disaster.
The program also requires an assessment of steps the state has taken to eliminate statutory, regulatory, procedural and other barriers to expedited voting and accessible voter registration.
"Improving the mechanics of our elections is one thing, but we can't afford for the laws and regulations that govern the administration of our elections to contribute to the widespread disenfranchisement and suppression of voters," Senator Coons said. "That's why the FAST Voting Act would consider the legal climate fostered by a state when it applies for a grant in this program. States would need to show they are working to expand access, not limit it."
The bill is named for Louis L. Redding, a prominent civil rights advocate who became the first African American to be admitted to the Delaware bar in 1929. He challenged school segregation in court and was part of the legal team that challenged Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court.