House Democrats fight back against voter suppression

Today, House Democrats did something really important. Something fundamental to our democracy. Today, House Democrats unveiled the Voter Empowerment Act - a legislation that would roll back many GOP state-sponsored efforts and laws to suppress the vote.
The bill will protect voters from restrictive voting measures that have been enacted in states across the country over the last year. These measures make it harder for millions of eligible voters to register or vote, and disproportionally affect our service members, the disabled, minorities, young people, seniors, and low-income Americans. 
The Voter Empowerment Act would use Congress' power to enforce the 19th, 24th and 26th amendments to the Constitution by instituting a few simple things: easy access to registration (including online registration) and voting for everyone who is eligible - including same day registration, prohibiting the practice of targeting military personnel's right to vote on the basis of returned mail when they are deployed overseas (voter caging), and protecting the integrity of the voting process by properly training poll workers and protecting against voter intimidation.

At the head of the push for this bill is the legendary American hero Rep. John Lewis.
“The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. ... We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), one of the bill’s sponsors and a 1960s civil rights icon.
In state after state, Republican lawmakers and governors have restricted the right to vote for seniors, minorities, working people and college students. Their combined effect may be the disenfranchisement of 5 million eligible voters, according to the Brennan Center. The House Democrats have a plan to counter the GOP attempt to suppress the vote.
But Democrats will not sit idly by. To that end, we have put forward the Voter Empowerment Act, which:

Opens 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 
Ensures 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
Protects 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
That a federal law like this is even needed is an embarrassing statement on the affairs of the states in the oldest and most enduring democracy in the world. But it is needed in this country. Support for this simple bill should be a test of whether or not a lawmaker believes in democracy. It should be a test of whether or not a member of Congress - any member of Congress - believes that the people truly are sovereign.

Civil and voting rights groups across the country are embracing this proposal. Here are parts of a couple of their statements:

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
The days of poll taxes, literacy tests, and brutal physical intimidation may be behind us, but today’s disenfranchisement tactics aimed at minority communities, while more subtle, are no less pernicious. Last year, 14 states passed restrictions on the right to vote. This year, similar legislation is pending in 24 states. None of these measures will improve elections; they will only suppress voter participation.

The Voter Empowerment Act is a comprehensive plan to strengthen elections, combat voter exclusion, and expand voter participation. We applaud the bill’s sponsors and urge the House to give it serious consideration as soon as possible.”
Demos:
Demos salutes the introduction of legislation today that aims to ensure that all eligible citizens can register and vote.  The Voter Empowerment Act seeks to provide more access to the ballot, more efficiency in our election systems, and more accountability in our elections.  Demos particularly supports the goal of modernizing our voter registration system, including by ensuring that voters can correct any problems with their registration on Election Day itself – a reform already adopted by nine states and the District of Columbia that is proven to increase voter turnout. Modernizing our voter registration process has the potential to bring millions of eligible, unregistered persons into the process.
Will the Republican House pass this law that would undermine their party's efforts to keep people from voting? Likely not. John Boehner and Mitt Romney do not want people to vote. That's why the introduction of this bill should be no reason to let up on an unprecedented effort launched by President Obama's campaign to register voters and educate voters on their state-specific laws.

But side-by-side with that effort, we need to let our legislators know that we are paying attention, and that we support the Voter Empowerment Act. Call your House members and your senators and tell them that you support this bill. Tell them that you expect them to sign on as co-sponsors, and, regardless of their party, vote to protect the voting rights of all Americans. If the Republicans won't pass this law, then we need to use it to draw people's attention to their naked efforts to disenfranchise millions of Americans. We need to use it to wake people up in the states where the theft of voting rights is going on right now. We need to use it to mobilize groups, campaigns, and people  to show that we won't stand by while the most basic right in a democracy is stolen away from us.