We Need The Voter Empowerment Act!
If democracy of, by, and for the people is important to you, you know that free and fair elections are necessary to give everyone a voice. The struggle to ensure every American is heard has led to some of the defining moments of our history, but to quote Martin Luther King Jr. “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
The civil rights and women’s suffrage movement lifted many overt legal barriers to voting, and Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign engaged new segments of the population in our political process, but that’s no reason to believe we’ve reached the end of the arc just yet.
Let’s start with the numbers: Voter registration problems in 2008 meant more than 3 million people who showed up to vote weren’t able to cast ballots. A 2009 GAO study found that most polling places still have significant impediments that could prevent voters with disabilities from casting their vote. On top of all this, 51 million Americans who are eligible to vote are unregistered, that’s one in four.
This is a huge black eye for our democratic legitimacy- fortunately, we can count on our elected officials to take swift and decisive action to expand voting rights, right? Wrong. In fact, over the past four years, state legislatures have been ending same-day voter registration and shortening or removing early voting periods while they look the other way on voter intimidation and ballot bullies.
At a time when many Americans are already having a hard time voting, state and federal lawmakers have decided that the most prudent response is to make it even harder. It makes sense though, I’m sure no Senator has ever been scared away by dishonest ballot bullies, and Congresspeople get so many days off that spending a day at the DMV to register is hardly any skin off their teeth.
What about the rest of us? Don’t we all deserve a democracy that actively encourages citizen participation? Shouldn’t everyone’s voice be valued equally and fairly? Enter the Voter Empowerment Act.
Sponsored by Reps. John Lewis of Georgia and Steny Hoyer of Maryland, this omnibus bill includes a whole swath of changes to our election system focused on making it easier and not harder for eligible citizens to vote, while fighting fraud proactively, not reactively.
The Act would institute online voter registration, which many states have already successfully experimented with, across the nation. It would also give our election system the long-needed modernizations and simplifications that states and other democracies have already implemented.
Voter empowerment also means putting a stop to ballot bully groups like True The Vote, by making some of their most abusive tactics, like voter caging, illegal, and by enacting federal laws that prohibit politically motivated voter intimidation. The Voter Empowerment Act does all of this.
It also sets up a nationwide hotline to report voter irregularities and sets higher standards for voting machine audits. It also ensures there are no repeats of what happened to Ohio in 2004, with lines stretched around the block at understaffed and overcapacity polling places by expanding poll worker programs and re-establishing the Election Assistance Committee.
There are so many more great things in the Voter Empowerment Act that it would take hours to list them all. Controversial voter ID aren’t included in the measure, in hopes that this important bill can gain the bipartisan support it needs to pass through Congress in time for the election. After all, time is of the essence- if this Act is made law, it will repair so much of the damage that’s been done to our democracy the last two or three years.