Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced legislation Thursday to make substantial improvements in the statesâ€™ administration of elections to make voting faster and more accessible to all voters.
Connollyâ€™s legislation, cosponsored by Congressman James Langevin of Rhode Island, is a companion bill to Senate legislation introduced the same day by Senator Chris Coons of Delaware and cosponsored by Senator Mark Warner of Virginia.
Connollyâ€™s Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012 would create a competitive grant program in the model of Race to the Top, to encourage states to aggressively pursue election reform. Under the legislation, states that demonstrate the most comprehensive and promising reform plans will earn a greater portion of the grant funding.
â€œWe faced long lines at a number of polling places in Virginia. That is unacceptable,â€ Connolly said. â€œVirginia 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.â€
The Connolly and Coons bills were introduced simultaneously in both Houses of Congress just over a week after an Election Day that saw extraordinarily long lines and other voting issues in more than a dozen states, including Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Montana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Arizona, Rhode Island and more.
This bill authorizes a federal program to award grants based on how well states can improve access to the polls in at least nine specific ways, including:
- 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 officials 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 an assessment of steps a state has taken to eliminate statutory, regulatory, procedural, and other barriers to expedited voting and accessible voter registration.
After witnessing voters forced to wait in long lines for more than four hours at some polls in Fairfax and Prince William Counties on Election Day, Connolly vowed to introduce legislation quickly to address the problems he saw and those he learned from constituents who waited in those lines to cast their vote.
The full text of the bill is available here.