House Leaders Introduce Bill to Upgrade America’s Election System

March 19, 2015

Bill Includes Brennan Center Proposal to Modernize Voter Registration

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Robert Brady (D-Pa.), and more than 100 members of Congress today introduced the Voter Empowerment Act, which would upgrade voter registration and bring America’s election system into the 21st century.

The plan features the Brennan Center for Justice’s signature proposal, Voter Registration Modernization.

The bill comes two weeks after President Obama called on Congress to honor the legacy of Selma — which galvanized support for the 1965 Voting Rights Act — by working to expand access to the polls. Five decades later, the U.S. Supreme Court has gutted the Act’s key provision, and there is a new nationwide push to restrict voting.

The Voter Empowerment Act would set national standards for improving the voting process. It would update our nation’s antiquated registration system, expand early voting, ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans, and prohibit deceptive practices that keep people from exercising their constitutional right to vote, among other things.

“This is the kind of common-sense reform our lawmakers should focus on, instead of controversial and divisive laws making it harder to vote,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “We can modernize our voter registration system to add millions of eligible citizens to the rolls, while boosting security, reducing errors, and cutting costs. This bill offers critical upgrades that will improve the voting system for all by making it more convenient, effective, and accurate.”

Some states have already moved to adopt these reforms. Since the beginning of 2013, 18 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws to improve voting, and President Obama formed a bipartisan commission that recommended several of these measures to fix long lines. Most recently, Oregon passed a breakthrough law that will add eligible citizens to the rolls — with no additional steps necessary. By helping to upgrade the infrastructure of state voter registration systems, the Voter Empowerment Act could pave the way for other states to follow suit.

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The Voter Registration Modernization plan:

  • Establishes voluntary, automated registration of all consenting citizens when they interact with a wide range of government agencies.
  • Makes registration portable, keeping voters on the rolls even when they move.
  • Provides fail-safe procedures to ensure that eligible voters whose information is not on the rolls or not up to date can correct the information online or at the polls.
  • Offers states federal funding to make necessary technological upgrades.

The benefits are substantial:

  • It boosts election integrity, providing safeguards against hacking and curbing the potential for fraud.
  • It could help bring up to 50 million eligible voters into the political process.
  • It costs less than the current paper-based system.

“America was founded on the principle that we are all ‘created equal.’ But far too many citizens lack fair access to the ballot box,” said Nicole Austin-Hillery, director and counsel of the Center’s Washington, D.C., office. “We need an election system that works well for everyone, and tolerates discrimination against no one. Congress must move quickly to strengthen the Voting Rights Act to ensure all voters are protected. The Voter Empowerment Act is also crucial to reform our broken and antiquated system, which prevents millions from making their voices heard.”

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The Voter Empowerment Act includes a number of other key reforms. Among other provisions, the bill would:

  • Prevent voter disenfranchisement as a result of “voter caging,” a process that involves efforts to remove registered voters solely on the basis of undeliverable mail.
  • End deceptive practices designed to confuse voters on Election Day.
  • Restore the right to vote in federal elections to individuals with past criminal convictions.
  • Require voter verified paper ballots and post-election audits to ensure the accuracy of election results.