What is the Voter Empowerment Act?
- The Voter Empowerment Act (H.R. 12, S. 123) is an omnibus bill that would improve American elections in a number of ways. The Act would:
- Modernize voter registration and move us toward a system in which nearly every eligible voter is on the rolls and able to vote.
- Protect against many of the tactics that have been used to suppress the vote, including partisan challenges of someoneʼs voter registration status and other deceptive practices.
- Secure our democracy and ensure a smooth voting process by requiring paper trails for voting equipment, ballot audits and bolstering poll worker training.
- Improve our electoral process with reforms such as early voting and vote by mail.
Why Do We Need It?
The Voter Empowerment Act comes after a recent election that truly tested the resilience of our democracy.
Not only did our country experience a campaign in which over $6 billion was spent, due to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling Citizens United, politicians in many states sought to alter voting rules to give their side an advantage. This was new wave of voter suppression laws intended to keep eligible citizens from participating in elections.
This is completely antithetical to who we are as Americans. We need the Voter Empowerment Act to not only push back against unfair manipulation of our election system, but strengthen our democracy and level playing field for everyone.
Who Supports It?
“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."
-Senator Kristen Gillibrand
“The American people deserve an election system that not only protects but enhances every eligible voterʼs ability to register, cast a ballot, and participate in our democracy.”
-Representatives John Conyers and Pat Brady
“Nothing is more precious in our democracy than our right to vote. Our history proves that. The Voter Empowerment Act will help safeguard that right.”
-Bob Edgar Common Cause
Components of The Voter Empowerment Act
Voter Registration Modernization
The Act requires states to allow for voter registration online, and to allow updates to registrations online. It also requires certain state and federal agencies to provide eligible people with the opportunity to register to vote, as is currently done at Registries of Motor Vehicles, and provides guidelines formaintaining accurate state voter rolls.
Same Day Registration
The Act would allow eligible people to register to vote on Election Day for federal elections, and allow young people 16 years or older to submit applications to register to vote in advance of turning 18. States would provide annual reports on voter registration statistics to gauge progress. In addition, the Act establishes penalties and protections regarding hindering voter registration.
The Act would allow disabled voters to vote by mail or absentee ballot for federal elections, and request ballots electronically. It would require states to designate a single point agency to handle all voter registration and ballot requests from disabled voters and set aside funding for state pilot programs to experiment with letting disabled voters vote private from their homes by telephone.
Prohibiting Voter “Caging”
The Act creates protections against the practice of voter “caging,” whereby third parties present mail that was returned as undeliverable by the Post Office as evidence that a voter is unqualified to vote in a jurisdiction. It also limits out who can bring a formal challenge against a voterʼs status.
Nonpartisan Election Administration
The Act prevents the chief election officer of a state from participating in campaign activities.
Penalties for Deceptive Practices
The Act sets penalties for willful attempts to deprive a voter of their free and fair exercise of the right to vote by communication of fraudulent election-related information. Examples of include misinformation about the date of the election, criminal penalties for voting, false endorsements, and so on.
The Act provides that no otherwise eligible individual may be denied the right to vote in federal elections by virtue of being formerly incarcerated. It also requires notification to individuals upon their release from prison that they are eligible to vote.
Paper Ballots and Manual Audits
The Act would require certified voting equipment that accommodates voter verified paper ballots. It would also mandate audits of the results of all federal elections in states and set detailed standards for performing them. Standards are also set for counting statewide provisional ballots.
Early Voting and Vote by Mail
The Act requires states to allow at least 15 days of early voting for federal elections, and to allow voting by mail.
The Act clarifies that military personnel retrain their home residency for the purposes of voting and establishes protections for timely transmission of absentee ballots. It establishes funding to states for poll worker training programs. It designates universities as voter registration agencies, and sets standards for notifying voters of polling place location changes.