Just a week after an election in which many Virginia voters endured hours-long lines, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is co-sponsoring legislation that would give states incentives to make voting easier.
Warner and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., announced today that they have introduced the Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012. The legislation would create a competitive grant program to encourage states to reform their election laws to expedite voting and simplify registration. In a Senate floor speech today, Warner said the long lines amounted to a “21st century poll tax” by keeping voters away from their jobs.
“The extremely long lines and wait times that many Virginia voters experienced at the polls last week were completely unacceptable,” Warner said in a news release. “The FAST Voting Act addresses this issue in a responsible way: it does not impose new mandates, and authorizes additional resources for those states which step up with commonsense reforms to make voting faster and accessible to more voters.
“I encourage Virginia’s elected leaders to embrace this opportunity to improve access for Virginia voters, who should not have to wait in line for hours to exercise their right to cast a ballot.”
The Warner-Coons bill would create a federal program that awards grants based on how well states can improve access to the polls in specific ways, such as :
- Providing flexible registration opportunities, including same-day registration;
- Allowing early voting, at a minimum of 9 of the 10 calendar days preceding an election;
- Improving absentee voting, including no-excuse absentee voting;
- Assisting voters who don’t speak English as a primary language;
- Assisting voters with disabilities;
- Providing effective access to military voters;
- Providing formal training of election officials, including state and county election administrators and volunteers;
- Auditing and reducing waiting times at polling stations;
- Creating contingency plans for a natural or other disaster.
Coons said that “too many voters waited far too long to cast their ballots in this last election.”
“Long lines are a form of voter disenfranchisement, a polling place running out of ballots is a form of voter suppression, and making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of voters’ civil rights,” Coons said. “The FAST Voting Act is a creative way to jump-start states’ election reform efforts and ensure that what happened last week doesn’t happen again.”
– Michael Sluss