Voting rights are under attack around the country. Millions of voters are facing increasing hurdles to exercising their constitutional rights to both vote and have their votes count equally due to restrictive voter ID laws, hundreds of polling precinct closures leading to hours-long waits at the polls, widespread voter roll purges, reduced early voting periods, and partisan and racial gerrymandering. These vote suppression efforts are largely targeted at Black voters and voters of color. Black voters in particular have been disproportionately and unfairly purged from registered voter rolls, burdened by poll closures that have led to long lines lasting hours, and their votes have been diluted by both racial and partisan gerrymandering. Black voters, however, are not the only voters harmed by this disenfranchisement. Latinx, elderly voters, and voters with disabilities are also harmed by these policies. And we are all affected by attacks on our democracy that suppress the vote and disenfranchise citizens. Restoring free and fair elections to ensure the proper functioning of our democracy is one of my top priorities.
Automatic Voter Registration
The first step in ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote is making voter registration simple and widespread. This is why I support electronic and permanent automatic voter registration. Automatic voter registration changes registering to vote from an “opt-in” system to an “opt-out” system. With automatic voter registration, whenever you interact with a government agency like a DMV, a Social Security or Medicaid office, or if you update your address with the U.S. Postal Service, your address is transferred to your state election office where your voter file is updated, unless you choose to opt out. This policy helps ensure that voter files stay up-to-date and reduces the hurdles for citizens to register themselves to vote. States that have implemented automatic voter registration have seen the portion of eligible voters who are registered increase significantly. Electronic voter registration is also much more efficient and cost-effective: after a small initial investment in the electronic software needed to transfer information between databases, states that have implemented automatic voter registration have saved significant money in data entry, paper, and processing costs. I support establishing a federal grant program to help states transition to automatic voter registration.
Permanent registration simply means that once a voter registers, they stay registered. Permanent registration prohibits the removal of voters from voter rolls for reasons including that an individual had not voted in a recent election or that they had moved within the state. Voter file purges for these reasons have removed millions of voters from registered voter rolls in recent years, many of whom were mistakenly removed or not notified that they needed to re-register. Voting is a fundamental right of all citizens and it does not lapse because citizens have not exercised it in a period of four years or because they moved houses in the same neighborhood. Permanent automatic registration is the best way to guarantee that voters are not arbitrarily removed from active voter files.
Same Day Registration
In addition to automatic voter registration, voters must have the right to register to vote on Election Day. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia currently allow voters to register when they go to cast their vote on Election Day. This means that in 29 states, anyone who has inadvertently missed the deadline, or whose registration applications got lost in the mail, or who was mistakenly and unknowingly purged from their state’s voter rolls is effectively disenfranchised. A healthy democracy must make it possible for all citizens who wish to exercise their right to vote to be able to do so. This is why I support federal legislation to mandate same-day voter registration in all federal elections.
Early Voting and Election Day
Making it easier to register is only one part of the necessary reforms to guarantee that all citizens have the right to vote. We must also make it easier to vote. Right now, too many people work on Election Day and have difficulty taking time off of work or off of childcare to go vote. I support making Election Day a federal holiday and expanding early voting to provide all Americans with the flexibility they need to be able to cast their vote. Unfortunately, early voting is under attack in many areas of the nation. Ohio attempted to end early voting on Sundays in 2014, a move which would have disproportionately impacted Black Ohioans. The state was sued by the ACLU and the NAACP and settled, but now a state bill seeks to terminate early voting the weekend prior to an election. Elsewhere, early voting periods have been shortened and evening voting hours have been cut. Four states allow no early voting at all. Early voting does not just help ensure that all citizens have the ability to vote, it also improves election administration by reducing wait times on Election Day, providing poll workers with additional experience before Election Day, and allowing for the identification and correction of errors and glitches. I support legislation to make Election Day a federal employment holiday and to require at least two weeks of early voting in federal elections, including evenings and weekends, to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can do so.
Restoring the Voting Rights Act
The last seven years have shown us that guaranteeing the right to vote to all citizens requires restoring the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Until 2013, the VRA required “covered jurisdictions” with histories of voter discrimination to receive “preclearance” for all proposed changes to state voting laws and procedures. Between 1965 and 2013, the Justice Department and federal courts relied on the VRA to block more than 3,000 discriminatory changes to voting laws. Yet, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the section of the VRA that required covered jurisdictions to submit proposed changes to voting procedures to the Justice Department for review to determine whether they were discriminatory, claiming that the formula used to determine which states and counties required preclearance was outdated. Since then, former preclearance jurisdictions have moved to restrict voting in ways that disproportionately impact Black and Latinx voters. Texas immediately enacted a restrictive voter ID law that required a form of ID that disproportionate numbers of Black and Latinx Texans did not have. As of 2018, more than 1100 polling places in formerly covered jurisdictions have been eliminated. These polling precinct closures, which under the VRA would have been evaluated for their impact on different groups of voters, have led to long wait times and farther travel distances to polling places for Black, Latinx, and poor voters. Precinct closures essentially act as a modern poll tax, making it harder for certain groups to vote. We must restore the VRA and the federal government’s ability to identify and review changes to voting procedures before they occur to prevent policies that lead to voter disenfranchisement.
Democracy requires that all citizens be able to easily register and vote. It also requires that every citizen’s vote count equally. Unfortunately, between racial and partisan gerrymandering and an outdated Electoral College, “one person, one vote” is increasingly aspirational. Due to extreme gerrymandering, the results of the popular vote are increasingly unrelated to the distribution of seats between parties. For example, the Democrats lost the House in 2012 by 33 seats, despite winning the popular vote by a margin of 2.5 million votes. Democrats re-took the House in 2018 with a 6.7% margin in the popular vote, but analysis shows that Republicans would have won the same number of seats as the Democrats won with only a 1.1% margin in the popular vote. Gerrymandering dilutes the votes of certain groups of voters, and in the most extreme cases, can hand legislative majorities to parties that won only a minority of the popular vote. I support legislation requiring states to appoint independent redistricting commissions to draw Congressional districts. We must combat this voter disenfranchisement and reinforce the constitutional guarantee of one person, one vote.