Two LGBT allies, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative John Lewis have teamed up to strengthen federal law regarding voting rights. While most LGBT Americans will likely not be impacted by the strengthening of the law, transgender and transsexual Americans are disproportionately impacted by laws impacting voting rights.
Gillibrand was one of the biggest forces behind the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and Lewis has been a Civil Rights leader for decades.
Gillibrand has introduced into the Senate the Voter Empowerment Act. The legislation was co-authored by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, and Representatives John Lewis, Jim Brady and John Conyers. A version of the bill was introduced into the House earlier this year.
Several states have used the threat of voter fraud to restrict the voting rights of many minorities in the United States.
Gillibrand stated of this legislation “We’ve come too far in our nation’s history to re-fight old battles over voting rights that already have been won. 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. I am honored to work on this bill with a true American hero like Congressman Lewis to ensure that voting is accessible and every American’s voice is heard.”
Lewis said “It should be easy to vote, as simple as getting a glass of water, in a society that believes in the immutable right of every human being to determine his or her own future. We must eliminate every barrier and impediment to the electoral process to make voting fair, accessible, and an accurate representation of the will of the people. The vote is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society to build.”
According to Gillibrand’s office:
The Voter Empowerment Act would modernize voter registration, ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans and prohibit deceptive practices and voter fraud that keep people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. The legislation contains three main sections: improving access to the ballot, protecting the integrity of voting systems, and ensuring accountability in elections.
Specifically, the legislation would:
· Open access to the ballot box by:
o Modernizing the voter registration system
o Authorizing an online registration option
o Authorizing same-day registration and permitting voters to update their registration data onsite
o Providing additional tools to alleviate any additional burdens for people with disabilities
o Requiring all universities that receive federal funds to offer and encourage voter registration to their students
o Simplifying registration and ensuring that ballots from all military personnel serving overseas are counted
· Ensure integrity of process by:
o Authorizing funds for training poll workers and setting standards for polling place practices
o Requiring provisional ballots be available and counted at all polling places
o Prohibiting voter caging and designating it as a felony
o Protecting against deceptive practices and intimidation
· Protect accountability of result by:
o Establishing a national voter hotline to ensure timely reporting and corrective action of voting related issues
o Setting standards for voting machines to ensure accurate tabulation and confirmation of voter intent paper copy verification
o Reauthorizing the Election Assistance Commission to ensure that the highest standards are being met nationwide to guarantee fair elections
The VEA is supported by the NAACP, Project Vote, DEMOS, National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, FairVote, Common Cause and the National Association of Social Workers.