U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today teamed up with Rep. John Lewis, a nationally recognized leader often called "one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced," by introducing companion legislation in the Senate of the Voter Empowerment Act, authored by a collaboration between Majority Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, and Reps. John Lewis, Jim Brady, and John Conyers. The House version of the bill was introduced earlier this year. At a time when numerous states have passed restrictive voter laws, this comprehensive legislation would strengthen federal law on voting rights by modernizing voter registration, ensuring equal access to the ballot box for all Americans and prohibit deceptive practices that predominantly disenfranchise Americans from minority communities.
"We've come too far in our nation's history to re-fight old battles over voting rights that already have been won," said Senator Gillibrand. "Instead of adding new burdens on voters, we should be giving them new protections. Ensuring that every vote counts is a cornerstone of our democracy that should be embraced by both sides of the aisle. I am honored to work on this bill with a true American hero like Congressman Lewis to ensure that voting is accessible and every American's voice is heard."
"It should be easy to vote, as simple as getting a glass of water, in a society that believes in the immutable right of every human being to determine his or her own future," said Rep. Lewis. "We must eliminate every barrier and impediment to the electoral process to make voting fair, accessible, and an accurate representation of the will of the people. The vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society to build."
Over the past two years, numerous states have passed restrictive voter laws, including limiting early voting, purging voter registration lists, and new voter identification requirements. With a pivotal election just weeks away, access to voter registration and to the ballot remains a problem of great concern. Approximately three million Americans were turned away from the polls in the 2008 Presidential election alone due to voter registration problems. One in four voters -- an estimated 51 million Americans eligible to vote -- are not registered.
The Voter Empowerment Act would modernize voter registration, ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans and prohibit deceptive practices and voter fraud that keep people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. The legislation contains three main sections: improving access to the ballot, protecting the integrity of voting systems, and ensuring accountability in elections.
Specifically, the legislation would:
Open access to the ballot box by:
Modernizing the voter registration system
Authorizing an online registration option
Authorizing same-day registration and permitting voters to update their registration data onsite
Providing additional tools to alleviate any additional burdens for people with disabilities
Requiring all universities that receive federal funds to offer and encourage voter registration to their students
Simplifying registration and ensuring that ballots from all military personnel serving overseas are counted
Ensure integrity of process by:
Authorizing funds for training poll workers and setting standards for polling place practices
Requiring provisional ballots be available and counted at all polling places
Prohibiting voter caging and designating it as a felony
Protecting against deceptive practices and intimidation
Protect accountability of result by:
Establishing a national voter hotline to ensure timely reporting and corrective action of voting related issues
Setting standards for voting machines to ensure accurate tabulation and confirmation of voter intent paper copy verification
Reauthorizing the Election Assistance Commission to ensure that the highest standards are being met nationwide to guarantee fair elections
The Voter Empowerment Act is supported by civil rights groups across the country including the NAACP, Project Vote, DEMOS, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, FairVote, Common Cause, and National Association of Social Workers.