Senate Bill Includes Voter Registration Modernization, A Brennan Center Proposal

September 21, 2012

Senate Bill Includes Voter Registration Modernization, A Brennan Center Proposal

For Immediate Release: September 21, 2012

Contact: Erik Opsal, erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 646-292-8356

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law released the following statement on the Voter Empowerment Act, a bill introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) today to help ensure all eligible Americans have the opportunity to vote. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) introduced the House version of the bill in May. This federal bill includes steps to modernize voter registration, a proposal first introduced by the Brennan Center in 2008.

“As the leading democracy of the world, our voting system should be free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Americans,” said Wendy Weiser, Democracy Program Director. “No matter your political party, we can all agree that every eligible American should have the opportunity to vote. Modernizing voter registration is something everyone can get behind. It is an innovative reform that could add more than 50 million eligible citizens to the rolls, permanently. It is significant and commendable that Senator Gillibrand and members of the House included this vital proposal in their voting bill.”

“Senator Gillibrand joined House leaders to support important voting reforms at a moment when this fundamental democratic system is under attack,” added Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of the Brennan Center’s Washington, D.C. office. “Whether young or old, rich or poor, voting is the one time when we all have the same say. We need to strengthen our democracy by making our voting system work better for all Americans.”

The bill also includes a provision, based on another Brennan Center policy proposal, that would restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated after re-entry into the community.

Read more on the Brennan Center’s voting rights efforts at our Election 2012 page.

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How Voter Registration Modernization Works

Voter registration modernization, a proposal that has received widespread bipartisan support in the states, requires the government to take responsibility to ensure that every eligible voter is on the rolls, using existing computerized lists. It would cost less (because computerized records are far easier to keep than today’s chaotic piles of paper). And it would also curb the potential for fraud.

Under the 2002 Help America Vote Act, states put in place computerized voter rolls. But citizens still must fill out paperwork to get onto those lists, and they fall off the rolls when there are errors, or when they move or change their address. Instead, voter registration modernization uses digital technology to pass names of eligible voters from state agencies on to election officials. Citizens are able to register or update their registration online or at the polls.

In recent years, at least 21 states have moved forward to automate voter registration at DMVs, a step supported by officials from both parties. Experiences in the states demonstrate that this increases accuracy and registration rates, minimizes the potential for fraud, and saves money.

See all of the Brennan Center’s resources on voter registration modernization.

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; and
  • Require voter verified paper ballots and post-election audits to ensure the accuracy of election results.

Read more of the Brennan Center’s work on voter caging and deceptive practices.

Also see more about the Democracy Restoration Act, a Brennan Center-backed bill to restore voting rights to nearly 4 million disenfranchised Americans who have been released from prison and are living in the community, but are still denied the right to vote.