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Public Statements

Protecting the Right to Vote

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. CONNOLLY of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, Americans turned out in record numbers this past election day, November 6, to exercise our most cherished and fundamental right, the right to vote.

No doubt my colleagues heard from their constituents who endured, in many cases, outrageously long lines. I spoke with voters who reported having to wait two or more hours, and in some cases up to 5 hours, to cast that precious vote. In most cases, the absence of early voting and the shortage of voting machines and well-trained election volunteers were the primary culprits leading to unacceptably long lines.

Whether one lived in a blue or red State, or voted in an urban, suburban or rural precinct, residents at polling places in more than a dozen States, including Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Montana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Arizona, Rhode Island, and my own Commonwealth of Virginia, encountered significant, yet avoidable, barriers to casting their ballots.

This is not a Republican or a Democratic problem. Voters from both parties were affected. This is truly a national bipartisan challenge, if not a crisis. And to quote President Obama: ``It's one we have to fix.''

I think about the employee who struggles to manage his commute or her commute and work schedule on election day, or the senior citizen who may not have had the stamina to stand in line for 5 hours, or the young working mom waiting to vote, worried about the fact that she won't get to the front of the line in time to pick up her kids at daycare.

The experience of our constituents on election day amount to a modern-day poll tax on all Americans that must be eliminated. Twelve years after the 2000 Presidential election exposed the deep structural problems that plague our decentralized voting system, our troubles appear to have worsened, not improved.

Long waits in the cold or the heat, confusing and conflicting instructions from poorly trained election officials, a paucity of voting machines or malfunctioning machines showing their age, a shortage of paper ballots, absentee ballots that failed to reach civilian and military voters in time were among the litany of voting problems that came to a head on election day.

I saw the problem firsthand at polling places in my district as I visited with voters in one Prince William County precinct who had been waiting in line for more than 4 hours in the cold. That's why I joined with Congressman Jim Langevin to introduce the Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely Voting Act of 2012, the FAST Act. A Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators Chris Coons of Delaware, Mark Warner of Virginia and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Representative Langevin and I have significant experience serving at the State and local levels, and we strongly believe that the Federal Government often works best when it leverages those laboratories of democracy at the local and State levels to test innovative solutions and governing reforms and best practices that might have applicability at the Federal level.

Consistent with this principle, our bill avoids overly prescriptive requirements and, instead, offers States a menu of options and financial incentives to adopt voting reforms.

Our FAST Voting Act recognizes that modernizing the Nation's voting system will require collaborative and coordinated efforts at the State, Federal, and local levels. It creates a competitive grant program, similar to the President's Race to the Top schools initiative, and rewards those States that aggressively implement the most effective and promising reforms to expand the franchise.

The menu of reforms includes flexible voter registration opportunities, including same-day registration; early voting, with a minimum of at least 9 days before the election; no-excuse absentee voting; assistance to voters who do not speak English as a primary language; assistance to voters with disabilities, including the visually impaired; effective access to voting for members of the Armed Services; formal training of election officials, including State and county administrators and volunteers; auditing and reducing waiting times at polling stations; creating contingency plans for voting in the event of a natural or other kind of disaster.

To be clear, the FAST Act is the latest in a series of proposals to reform how our elections are administered. Given the renewed interest among the public, Members of Congress, and the President, we ought to at least move forward with hearings to debate the merits of these proposals.

This is the world's greatest and oldest democracy. How can any of us be satisfied with the scandalous operations that occurred in all too many voting places that impaired the ability of Americans, free Americans, to freely cast their vote?

We ought to clean this up. It's a solvable problem, and it ought to be solved on a bipartisan basis.

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