WASHINGTON -- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is introducing the Voter Empowerment Act Friday, a measure designed to protect voting rights as dozens of states have recently passed laws adding restrictions to voting.
The measure seeks to both expand voter registration, a goal of voting-rights activists, and ensure "integrity," which authors of state laws cite as the reason to pass such restrictive voter ID laws.
"We've come too far in our nation's history to re-fight old battles over voting rights that already have been won," Gillibrand said in a statement. "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."
Gillibrand joins Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader in the civil rights movement who marched at "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Ala. At the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., Lewis linked his experience in the civil rights movement to GOP efforts to "suppress the vote." Lewis has already introduced the Voter Empowerment Act in the House.
"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," Lewis said in a statement. "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."
The legislation has been referred to several committees in the GOP-controlled House and has 140 co-sponsors.
According to the Brennan Center For Justice at New York University, 25 laws restricting voting rights have passed since 2011, 17 of which could impact the November elections. A battle over Pennsylvania's voter ID law is currently brewing in the courts, with the state Supreme Court asking a lower court to review its decision upholding the law.
Here are the full details of the legislation, from Gillibrand's office:
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
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