U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined Senators Barbara Boxer (D- Calif.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) today in sending a letter to the co-chairmen of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Robert F. Bauer and Benjamin L. Ginsberg, urging them to take strong steps to address the hours-long election lines that too many voters endured during the 2012 election. The Commission is set to have its first public meeting in Washington on June 21.
Specifically, the senators called on the Commission to hold public meetings in areas of the country where voters faced the longest lines so the commissioners can hear directly from the public and seek answers from state and local election officials. For example, voters in parts of Virginia waited in lines of up to five hours, and in parts of Florida voters waited for up to seven hours to cast a ballot.
"Voters in these areas had the most difficulty in having their voices heard on Election Day, and are those most deserving of the opportunity to be heard at your public hearings," the senators wrote.
The senators also called on the Commission to examine whether the long voting lines were the result of discriminatory behavior, given that a recent report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that African-American and Hispanic voters waited twice as long to vote as white voters during the 2012 election.
In the letter, the lawmakers urged the Commission to make specific legislative recommendations to Congress. Several bills have already been introduced in the Senate, including the LINE Act, sponsored by Senators Boxer and Nelson, which would help ensure that no American voter has to wait longer than one hour to cast a ballot, and the FAST Voting Act, introduced by Senators Coons, Warner and others, which would create a competitive grant program to encourage states to aggressively pursue election reform.
"The American people will be closely watching the work of the Commission," the senators wrote. "The President has entrusted you with great responsibility, and we urge you to complete the mandate you have been given in a meaningful way."
The full text of the letter follows:
June 11, 2013
Robert F. Bauer
Presidential Commission on Election Administration
Benjamin L. Ginsburg
Presidentia Commission on Election Administration
Dear Chairman Bauer and Chairman Ginsburg:
In his Second Inaugural Address, President Obama noted that "our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote." As you and your fellow members of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration meet for the first time, we urge you to let the President's words guide the Commission's work.
The fundamental right to vote is a cornerstone of our democracy, but unfortunately, the inefficiencies and errors in the administration of our elections have become common and are eroding the right of citizens to participate in elections.
During our last federal election, far too many citizens had to overcome significant obstacles in order to cast a ballot. The existence of long lines, malfunctioning poll books, defective voting machines, and the lack of staff and adequate resources at polling locations created inexcusable conditions for voters.
Lines created by these conditions are forcing citizens to decide between casting their ballot or caring for a sick child, or earning a paycheck to feed their families. This is a choice that no citizen should have to face -- and it is why the Commission's task is so important to the future of our nation.
As you begin your work of identifying best practices and making recommendations to promote more efficient elections, we urge you to focus on the following:
Hold Public Meetings in Areas of the Country Where Voters Faced the Longest Lines
During the 2012 election, Florida, Virginia, and other states had multiple counties and cities impacted by long lines. In Miami-Dade County, lines were as long as seven hours, and some voters in South Florida did not cast their ballots until the early hours of Wednesday morning, hours after Governor Romney conceded. An Ohio State University study has determined that more than 200,000 voters in Florida left voting lines because wait times were so long.
In the cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, and in Arlington and Fairfax Counties, voters waited in lines of up to 5 hours to cast a ballot due to problems with the check-in process.
We encourage the Commission to visit the areas of the country where voters faced the longest lines. Speak to individual voters about their experiences, seek answers from state and local election officials and hold them accountable, and identify specific improvements elected officials in these areas should make to ensure problems do not happen again.
Voters in these areas had the most difficulty in having their voices heard on Election Day, and are those most deserving of the opportunity to be heard at your public hearings.
Identify Whether Voting Lines Were the Result of Discriminatory Behavior
A recent report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that African-American and Hispanic voters waited twice as long to vote than did white voters in the 2012 election. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama spoke of a 102-year old African-American Florida voter named Desiline Victor who waited more than six hours to cast her ballot. There are also numerous examples from other recent federal elections.
If we focus on this problem and implement meaningful solutions, we can ensure that no citizen -- no matter her age, race, religion, or color -- faces discrimination when exercising the right to vote.
The Commission Should Make Legislative Recommendations to Congress
As you consider measures to take in order to lessen the Election Day problems facing voters, we urge you to provide Congress with legislative recommendations. In making these recommendations we suggest you examine the following Senate proposals:
· S. 58, The Lines Interfere with National Elections (LINE) Act -- This bill would require the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Election Assistance Commission, to issue new national standards to prevent a waiting time of more than one hour at any polling place, and would also require states where voters endured long lines to implement remedial plans to fix the problems before the next federal election.
· S. 85, TheFair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act -- This bill would provide incentives for States to invest in practices and technology that are designed to expedite voting at the polls and to simplify voter registration.
· S. 123, The Voter Empowerment Act -- This bill would modernize voter registration, promote access to voting for individuals with disabilities, and protect the ability of individuals to exercise the right to vote in elections for Federal office.
· S. 532, The Same Day Registration Act -- This bill would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require States to provide for same day registration.
The American people will be closely watching the work of the Commission. The President has entrusted you with great responsibility, and we urge you to complete the mandate you have been given in a meaningful way.
United States Senator
United States Senator
United States Senator
United States Senator