House Democrats today introduced new voting rights legislation that would modernize voter registration while cracking down on disenfranchisement practices that disproportionately affects low-income, student and minority voters.
The Voter Empowerment Act counters to a growing trend pushed by the Republican Party at the state and national level to require voters to present a photo ID when voting and other hurdles. These GOP voter laws end or curb early voting and discourage voter registration drives because of draconian restrictions.
"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.
Republicans are inventing the myth of voter fraud to justify these laws. Voter fraud is virtually nonexistent, save for one convicted Republican secretary of state from Indiana.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said, "Just six months from a presidential election and amid an unprecedented drive to impose new restrictions on who can vote in states across the country, Democrats will fight for the right to vote and for the integrity of our electoral system."
The bill includes a number of provisions designed to modernize the voting process, such as authorizing online registration and allowing same-day registration.
The bill also includes language barring the practice of "voter caging" - a tactic that involves challenging voter registrations if mail sent to their official addresses is returned - and strengthens prohibitions against voter intimidation.
Civil and human rights leaders applauded the move. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Wade Henderson issued the following statement:
"Today's introduction of the Voter Empowerment Act sends a powerful and timely message about the importance of eliminating barriers to voting and improving the administration of our elections. Our nation is strong when our democracy is strong, and our democracy is strongest when every citizen has free and full access to the voting booth.
"The ability to cast a vote and have that vote count is the most precious civil right in America. But as we approach an election with so much at stake, we're seeing new efforts in states across the country to exclude citizens from registering and voting on a scale unheard of since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
"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."
Photo: Creative Commons 2.0