Sunday, 22 March 2015 00:00

Cedric Richmond, 170 other Democrats, introduce bill to expand voting rights including online registration

Written by Bruce Alpert | NOLA.com

Over 170 House Democrats, including Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, introduced new voting rights legislation Thursday (March 19) that would allow people to register to vote online and via the telephone.

The bill also would make it unlawful to hinder, interfere, or prevent another person from either registering to vote or from aiding another person in registering to vote.

The bill doesn't appear to have any Republican sponsors, making passage in the GOP-led House and Senate questionable, though some Republican leaders have vowed to help move bipartisan voting rights legislation.

Richmond has called passage of a voting rights law a top priority for the current Congress.

"The Voter Empowerment Act removes unnecessary barriers between voters and the ballot box and utilizes modern technology to bring our elections into the 21st Century," Richmond said. "The right to vote is the single most essential element to maintaining our democracy. I will continue to be a strong voice in Congress as we fight to safeguard the right to vote for every American."

The lead sponsor is Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., who March 7th returned with thousands of others to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., where 50 years ago as a 25-year-old civil rights advocate he was badly beaten by police during a march for voting rights.

"The goal of this bill is to make voting access equal, fair, and simple for every American," Lewis said. "Democracy is not a state; it is an act.  The vigilant action of every member of Congress and every citizen is necessary to ensure that liberty, equality and justice remain the guiding principles of our democracy.  The VEA is just one of the steps we believe must be taken to make sure the vote retains its power as the most transformative, non-violent tool citizens have in our society to make their voices heard."

Among other provisions in the bill:

  • Prohibits challenges to an individual's eligibility to vote by any person other than an election official unless it is documented and subject to an oath of good faith factual basis.
  • Makes it unlawful to impede, hinder, discourage, or prevent another person from voting by knowingly providing false information about the time or place of voting or the qualifications for voting.
  • Prohibits ineligibility to vote because of conviction of criminal offense, unless person is serving felony sentence in a correctional institution at the time of an election.
  • Requires early voting in federal elections to occur for at least 15 consecutive days, including weekends, of no less than 4 uniform hours each day, and notes that the early voting should occur within walking distance to public transportation.

There will no doubt be some who will raise questions about how to prevent fraudulent voting and registration under the Democratic bill's requirement for online, telephone and mail legislation options. But sponsors say there are steps that can be taken to ensure fraud doesn't occur, without disenfranchising people from the right to vote.

The bill, called the Voter Empowerment Act, is also being introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Link to original article from NOLA.Com

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