U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have reintroduced their legislation to make substantial improvements in the states' administration of their elections and to make voting faster and more accessible to all voters. The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act would create a competitive grant program to encourage 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.
"The extremely long lines and wait times that many Virginia voters experienced at the polls last November were unacceptable. While I'm disappointed the Virginia General Assembly last week failed to act on state-level legislation to begin implementing many of these commonsense reforms, that doesn't mean we should stop fighting for election reforms," Senator Warner said. "The FAST Voting Act addresses election reform in a responsible way: it does not impose new mandates, and authorizes additional resources for states that step-up with reforms to make voting faster and accessible to more voters. We should be looking for opportunities to improve voting access, and voters should not have to wait in line for hours to exercise this fundamental right."
"Making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of their civil rights," Senator Coons said. "The 2012 elections were a wakeup call. All over the country, in red states and blue states, Americans saw their fundamental right to vote eroded by exceptionally long lines, confusing rules and voting machine malfunctions. We have to do better than this. 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 sight of countless Americans standing in line for hours to vote this past Election Day should remind us that our election system needs to be fixed," Senator Whitehouse said. "The FAST Voting Act is an important first step, providing incentives for states to take common sense steps to make voting easier for everyone."
"We cannot permit voter suppression and intimidation, which persist in long lines, ballot shortages, machine malfunctions, bully billboards, and intrusive ID requirements," Senator Blumenthal said. "Voting is a fundamental aspect of the electoral process that should be protected at all costs, and the FAST voting Act seeks to do exactly that by providing states with resources to reform their election processes."
The bill was originally introduced in November 2012, 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 Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Montana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Arizona, Rhode Island and more. Some voters in Prince William County, Virginia 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.
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.
The New York Times offered its support for the FAST Voting Act in November, as did the Washington Post in December.
Companion legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11).