WASHINGTON (NEWS10) — On Thursday, the bicameral Voter Empowerment Act was reintroduced. This legislation would protect the voting rights of Americans by ensuring equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, modernizing voter registration, and helping to eliminate deceptive practices that deter people from voting.
Legislators involved with the reintroduction are U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Reverend Raphael Warnock, and U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn and Congresswoman Nikema Williams.
Senator Gillibrand says the reintroduction comes as Republican legislatures across the country are passing “archaic voter suppression laws.” Georgia passed legislation that would shorten the runoff cycle, restrict early voting locations, make giving food or drinks to a voter a misdemeanor, allow for unlimited challenges to voter registration and eligibility, and create other provisions designed to make voting harder.
Similar laws are under consideration in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah and more.
“Working alongside my friend, the late Congressman John Lewis, on the Voter Empowerment Act was one of the great honors of my career, and I’m proud to continue this work with Senator Warnock, Congressman Clyburn, and Congresswoman Williams,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As Republican legislatures across the country seek to pass voter suppression laws that will disenfranchise communities of color, it is critical that we pass the Voter Empowerment Act to strengthen the integrity of our elections and ensure that voting is equal, fair and accessible for all Americans. We owe it to Congressman Lewis’ legacy and to our democracy.”
The Congressmembers say the Voter Empowerment Act takes a comprehensive approach to close the gaps in voting access and makes sure that every American can participate in the electoral process.
Specifically, it would do the following:
Modernizes Voter Registration
- Requires states to make available online voter registration, correction, cancellation and designation of party affiliation.
- Requires states to automatically register any eligible unregistered citizens.
- Establishes same-day voter registration, including during early voting.
- Prohibits purging of voter rolls by limiting the ability for states to remove registrants from the official list of eligible voters based on interstate voter registration crosschecks.
- Makes it unlawful to interfere or prevent an individual from registering to vote, and requires the Election Assistance Commission to develop best practices for states to prevent such violations.
Improves access to voting for vulnerable Americans
- Requires states to promote access to voter registration and voting for persons with disabilities and older individuals.
- Provides grants to improve voting accessibility for persons with disabilities and creates a pilot program to allow persons with disabilities to register and vote from home.
Prohibits voter caging
- Prohibits the use of returned non-forwardable mail as the basis for removing registered voters from the rolls.
- Prohibits challenges to eligibility from individuals who are not election officials without an oath of good faith factual basis.
Early voting and vote-by-mail
- Requires at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Requires that early voting locations be near public transportation, in rural areas and open for at least 10 hours per day.
- Prohibits a state from imposing restrictions on vote by mail, requires the state to implement a program to track and confirm receipt of mail ballots, and requires the prepayment of postage and return envelopes.
Prohibiting deceptive practices and preventing voter intimidation
- Makes it illegal to provide false information about elections in order to discourage voting.
- Increases penalties for voter intimidation and creates sentencing guidelines for those found guilty of such deceptive practices.
- Restores federal voting rights to individuals with a criminal record, as long as they are not serving a felony sentence in a correctional facility.
- Requires states and the federal government to notify individuals convicted of state or federal felonies, respectively, of their re-enfranchisement.
Reauthorizes Election Assistance Commission (EAC)
- Eliminates the existing funding cap.
- Requires each state to comply with any EAC request for post-election survey following any regularly scheduled general election for federal office.
- Directs the EAC to assess the security, cybersecurity and effectiveness of the Commission’s information technology systems.