U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and five other Democrats introduced legislation today to help states make voting faster and more accessible to all voters by making substantial improvements in the administration of their elections. The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2016 would create a competitive grant program in the model of Race to the Top, encouraging states to aggressively pursue election reform. Those states that demonstrate the most comprehensive and promising reform plans will earn a greater portion of the grant funding.
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. But during this last election, reports indicated that computer problems, long lines, poorly trained poll workers, and outdated equipment all made it harder for voters in some places to cast their ballots,” said Sen. Warner. “The FAST Voting Act addresses these challenges by encouraging and helping states to make voting faster and more accessible through commonsense reforms like reducing long waiting times, expanding early voting opportunities, and eliminating other obstacles that prevent people from exercising their franchise.”
In the 2016 election, long lines and voting-machine problems were reported in well over a dozen states, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, Utah, Colorado, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee, Hawaii, Arizona, Rhode Island, and more. There were also reports of confusion over new voter ID laws in Texas and Wisconsin, improper refusals of voter registrations in West Virginia, delayed absentee ballots in Pennsylvania and Alabama, and an absence of required bilingual support in Arizona and Florida.
The program tasks applicant states with creating a comprehensive and coherent plan to improve their election processes by:
- 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 an assessment of steps the state has taken to eliminate statutory, regulatory, procedural, and other barriers to expedited voting and accessible voter registration. Sens. Warner and Coons first introduced the legislation in November 2012, just after Election Day, and have reintroduced the bill in subsequent Congresses.
Sen. Warner has previously introduced legislation to restore and advance provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were recently struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Sen. Warner has also cosponsored legislation which would remove partisanship out of the often divisive process of drawing congressional district lines.
Other sponsors of the measure are Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)