Sort by

The Voter Empowerment Act Protects and Promotes the Freedom to Vote

Liz Kennedy

Leaders in the House of Representatives introduced The Voter Empowerment Act of 2012 to protect and promote our freedom to vote. This bill seeks to provide more access to the ballot, more efficiency in our election systems, and more accountability in our elections.

The ability to cast a ballot that will be counted is a fundamental freedom that protects the other essential rights that Americans hold dear. The freedom to vote is how Americans, regardless of privilege or economic status, maintain the power to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions that impact their lives.

Demos’ Brenda Wright warns that:

Every generation has the obligation to ensure that our country is doing all it can to preserve and protect the freedom to vote. Unfortunately, over the past two years, many states have been going backward rather than forward, enacting new measures across the country that would prevent millions of eligible voters from registering and voting. It reflects an effort by powerful interests to avoid accountability by choking off access to the ballot.

Currently, our freedom to vote is jeopardized by both systemic weaknesses and direct attacks aimed at undermining the franchise.

Bureaucratic barriers block our freedom to vote with red tape. Our antiquated system puts the burden of registration on each individual, with unnecessarily restrictive registration deadlines. Approximately 51 million eligible Americans are still not registered to vote, according the Pew Center on the States. This represents one in four eligible Americans. In the 2008 election, 9 million eligible Americans were not registered because of residency rules or registration deadlines. The Voter Empowerment Act automates voter registration so the government bears the burden of registering its citizens.

One of the most common sense reforms is to allow eligible Americans to register to vote on the same day that they vote. Same Day Registration is available in nine states and Washington, D.C., and will be available in Connecticut in 2013. States with Same Day Registration have consistently led the nation in voter participation: average voter turnout was 7 percentage points higher in Same Day Registration states in 2008, and the top 5 states for voter turnout all gave citizens the option to register and vote on the same day. Experts have projected substantial increases in voter turnout, from between 4 to almost 9 percent, in states that have considered adopting Same Day Registration.

Allowing for Same Day Registration means the government is promoting citizen participation, rather than encumbering our fundamental freedoms. Two to 3 million registered voters were prevented from voting because of administrative problems in the 2008 election, which exceeded the popular vote margin of the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Our electoral system threatens the voting rights of hundreds of thousands of voters each cycle through byzantine and non-standardized voter roll purges. When these machinations lead to eligible voters being dropped from the rolls, or challenged, their right to vote can be denied on the basis of bureaucratic error or even malfeasance. Just this year, former US Representative Lincoln Davis showed up to vote in his home town and was told that he was no longer on the voting rolls. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.

Some otherwise eligible American citizens are barred from voting because of past crimes, even if they have completed their sentences. This bill would help restore voting rights to all citizens who have been restored to society.

Voters continue to face underhanded attempts to keep them from the polls through tricks and deceptive practices, such as information being distributed calling on members of certain parties to vote on days after Election Day. Our electoral systems should not be open to manipulation, and our voting rights should not fall victim to those who wish to win power through underhanded attempts to stop opponents from voting. This bill protects voters by prohibiting despicable deceptive practices where fraudulent information is distributed to prevent people from voting.

Read our policy brief or more analysis of the Voter Empowerment Act and the importance of its reforms >>>