New York— Today, leaders in the House of Representatives introduced a bill that would dramatically expand Americans’ fundamental freedom to vote: the Voter Empowerment Act of 2012 (VEA). The far-reaching reforms reflect the importance of cutting through the needless red tape that is restricting too many eligible Americans’ ability to register and vote. Demos applauds the goals of co-sponsors Reps. John Lewis, James Clyburn, Steny Hoyer, John Conyers, Robert Brady, and Keith Ellison, among others.
Brenda Wright, Vice President of Legal Strategies, issued the following statement:
“The freedom to vote is fundamental to American democracy, because voting is the means by which Americans, regardless of privilege or economic status, maintain the power to hold their elected representatives accountable for the decisions that impact their lives.
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.
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.
Demos salutes the introduction of legislation today that aims to ensure that all eligible citizens can register and vote. The Voter Empowerment Act seeks to provide more access to the ballot, more efficiency in our election systems, and more accountability in our elections. Demos particularly supports the goal of modernizing our voter registration system, including by ensuring that voters can correct any problems with their registration on Election Day itself – a reform already adopted by nine states and the District of Columbia that is proven to increase voter turnout. Modernizing our voter registration process has the potential to bring millions of eligible, unregistered persons into the process.
Americans deserve an election system that is much more responsive to their needs and to their lives, and that facilitates their participation in democratic governance. With the introduction of the Voter Empowerment Act, Demos looks forward to a new conversation about the best means of protecting the freedom to vote in the 21st century.”
Demos also released a policy brief, “Protecting the Freedom to Vote,” that explains the serious problems in our voting systems that the Voter Empowerment Act of 2012 seeks to address, focusing in particular on the antiquated, clunky, and prone-to-error voter registration system. The brief, by Demos Counsel Liz Kennedy, demonstrates how 90 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the 2008 elections, but that is only 64 percent of eligible Americans of voting age. With 51 million eligible voters – almost one in four – still unregistered, efforts to increase participation should focus on decreasing bureaucratic barriers to registration across the country. Moreover, writes Kennedy, one study showed that 2 to 3 million registered voters were prevented from voting in 2008 because of registration or other administrative problems, and 9 million eligible Americans were not registered because of residency rules or registration deadlines. These facts underscore how automated voter registration and Election Day Registration would be important steps toward expanding the freedom to vote for millions.
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