U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) joined Sen. Chris Coons (D-DEL) in introducing legislation today that will make voting faster and more accessible to all voters. The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012 creates a competitive grant program to encourage states to aggressively pursue election reforms. It would provide incentives for states like Virginia to invest in practices and technology designed to expedite voting at the polls and simplify voter registration.
The bill was introduced a week after an Election Day that saw extraordinarily long lines in Virginia and in a dozen other states. Some voters in Prince William County, for instance, reported waiting in lines for up to three hours. Wait times reportedly stretched to five hours at some voting precincts in Chesapeake, and more than four hours at polling places in Virginia Beach.
"The extremely long lines and wait times that many Virginia voters experienced at the polls last week were completely unacceptable," Sen. Warner said. "The FAST Voting Act addresses this issue in a responsible way: it does not impose new mandates, and authorizes additional resources for those states which step-up with commonsense reforms to make voting faster and accessible to more voters. I encourage Virginia's elected leaders to embrace this opportunity to improve access for Virginia voters, who should not have to wait in line for hours to exercise their right to cast a ballot."
"Too many voters waited far too long to cast their ballots in this last election," Sen. 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. 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."
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 specific 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 the establishment of performance measures and reporting requirements to ensure a state's progress in eliminating statutory, regulatory, procedural and other barriers to expedited voting and accessible voter registration.