Voter Rights – on the Mind of Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand teams with Rep. John Lewis, who is well recognized for his work in Civil Rights..  introducing companion legislation in the Senate for the Voter Empowerment Act.

 Gillibrand says “We’ve come too far in our nation’s history to re-fight old battles over voting rights that have already been won,” and she says “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.”

“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,NationalLawCenteron Homelessness & Poverty, FairVote, Common Cause, and National Association of Social Workers.


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