Two Virginia lawmakers have introduced legislation that would encourage election reform among states.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Gerry Connolly introduced companion bills to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that Connolly's office compares to Race To The Top -- President Obama's signature education program that encourages innovation in reform by awarding federal grants to states.
The bills—which Warner jointly introduced with U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Connelly introduced with Rep. James Langevin (D-R.I) —come just a week after a presidential election where voters across the country, including Virginia, experienced out-of-the-ordinary waits at the polls.
“We faced long lines at a number of polling places in Virginia. That is unacceptable,” Connolly said in a release. “Virginia and many other states can do better. This legislation is designed to jumpstart election reform and provide states with the tools to make their elections more efficient and more accessible to all voters.”
This week, Virginia State Senator Janet Howell prefiled legislation to lift restrictions on early voting in an effort to reduce lines on election day.
On the Senate floor, Warner called these multiple hour long waits “a 21st century poll tax,” referencing the Jim Crow era of decades past when states blocked black people from voting by requiring them to pay a tax to cast a ballot.
"In Virginia, it's remarkable in 2012 that people had to wait for hours in line to vote," Warner said Thursday "In Prince William County, folks waited for up to three hours. In Chesapeake, Va., folks waited for up to four hours. It was remarkable that it was five days after the fact before we even knew the results in Florida.
The bills are both called the Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012.
FAST legislation would award federal grants to states based on how they are able to improve access to the polls. To qualify for the grants, states would need to improve these following aspects of their voting system:
• Providing flexible registration opportunities, including same-day registration;
• Providing early voting, at a minimum of 9 of the 10 calendar days preceding an election;
• Providing absentee voting, including no-excuse absentee voting;
• Providing assistance to voters who do not speak English as a primary language;
• Providing assistance to voters with disabilities, including visual impairment;
• Providing effective access to voting for members of the armed services;
• Providing formal training of election officials, including State and county administrators and volunteers;
• Auditing and reducing waiting times at polling stations; and
• Creating contingency plans for voting in the event of a natural or other disaster.
The program also requires the establishment of performance measures and reporting requirements to ensure a state’s progress in eliminating statutory, regulatory, procedural and other barriers to expedited voting and accessible voter registration.
The Senate bill is also named for Louis Redding a civil rights lawyer who was the first black person admitted to the Delaware bar and was part of the legal team that brought Brown v. Board of Education to the Supreme Court.
Here is a copy of Coon's version of the legislation:
Here is video of Warner speaking on the Senate floor:
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