February 26, 2019

Gillibrand Leads Group Of 9 Senators To Reintroduce Voter Empowerment Act To Help Protect The Voting Rights Of People Across The Country And Ensure All Americans Have Equal Access To The Ballot

Gillibrand’s Bill, the Senate Companion to Legislation Introduced in the House by Rep. John Lewis, Would Help Ensure Equal Access to the Ballot for Every Eligible Voter, Modernize Voter Registration, and Help Eliminate Deceptive Practices that Deter People from Voting

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, joined by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Ed Markey (D-MA) today announced the reintroduction of the Voter Empowerment Act. This legislation would help protect the voting rights of people across the country by ensuring equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, modernizing voter registration, and helping to eliminate deceptive practices that deter people from voting. Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by U.S. Representative John Lewis (GA-05), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD-05), Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (SC-06), and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-10).

“So many Americans are still experiencing blatant discrimination when they try to exercise their right to vote,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As states continue to create new barriers to the ballot box, Congress needs to do much more to protect our sacred right to vote. I am proud to join Congressman Lewis to reintroduce the Voter Empowerment Act to help ensure all Americans can make their voices heard on Election Day without obstruction. This legislation would take much-needed steps to strengthen the integrity of our elections and ensure that voting is equal, fair, and accessible for all Americans.”

“Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship,” said Senator Cardin. “I am proud to join with Senator Gillibrand to co-sponsor the VEA, which would eliminate the patchwork of voter rights across the country. Among many important measures, the VEA includes my Democracy Restoration Act (DRA), which would strengthen American communities by restoring voting rights to individuals after they have returned home after being released from incarceration. The United States is one of the few Western democracies that allows the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions, and it’s simply wrong that state disenfranchisement laws deny citizens participation in our democracy. The VEA would also crack down on the use of deceptive practices and voter intimidation efforts that are deliberately designed to suppress minorities’ voting rights.”

“The right to vote is a founding tenet of our democracy, but far too many Americans face discrimination and unnecessary barriers when it comes to casting their ballot,” said Senator Duckworth. “This legislation will make it easier, not harder, for every American to vote and it will bolster the democratic systems that are crucial to the strength of our nation.”

“The right to vote is fundamental, and we must do more than defend it—we must expand access to the ballot so that our elections better reflect the will of the people,” said Senator Harris. “I’m proud to stand with my colleagues in the Senate and my friend John Lewis today to reintroduce the Voter Empowerment Act, which will modernize our voter registration system, protect the integrity of our elections, and ensure equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter.”

“We should be doing everything possible to make it easier for people to participate in the political process and create a more vibrant democracy. Our voter turnout rates are shamefully low, and it is a disgrace that some politicians see that as a good thing. This legislation is a good step towards tearing down barriers designed to prevent people from voting,” said Senator Sanders.

“Unjust restrictions or impediments to voting are a violation of Americans’ most basic civil right,” said Senator Blumenthal. “This important legislation would ensure that all Americans – no matter who they are or where they live –  have fair and easy access to voting on election day.”

“In 2013, the Supreme Court dealt a devastating blow to American democracy with its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. That decision was issued amid a flurry of discriminatory state laws passed by Republican legislatures around the country that made it more difficult for elderly, minority, low-income, and disabled voters to cast a ballot,” said Senator Durbin. “Disenfranchisement may no longer take the form of poll taxes and literacy tests, but make no mistake, it is still a sinister threat to our most fundamental rights. I’m proud to join Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Lewis to introduce this critical legislation.”

“Recent attempts to suppress the vote in critical elections should come as no surprise. Attacks on voting rights can be traced back nearly as far as the right to vote itself,” said Senator Whitehouse. “This legislation will crack down on discriminatory practices and help uphold the promise that every citizen has a say in our democracy. I am proud to be a co-sponsor.”

“Over the past decade, the United States has seen an erosion of protections for all voters, but most visibly for young people and people of color. The rolling back of the Voting Rights Act, the lack of investment in voter protection, the purging of voter rolls, and the limiting of early voting are all examples of how voting is becoming more difficult for eligible voters. A healthy democracy should always have a goal of high voter turnout and the Voter Empowerment is a step towards that goal,” said Senator Markey.   

With some states implementing or planning to implement new barriers for voters, the Voter Empowerment Act would take a comprehensive approach the close the gaps in voting access and ensure that every American can participate in the electoral process.

Specifically, the Voter Empowerment Act would do the following:

Ensure Access to the Ballot

  • Modernize the voter registration system
  • Ensure access to online voter registration
  • Ensure ballots are counted from Americans serving in the military or overseas
  • Allow same day registration
  • Notify voters when voting changes are made
  • Encourage youth to become voters
  • Assist voters with disabilities
  • Restore rehabilitated citizens’ right to vote

Preserve Integrity in Voting Systems

  • Provide informed and reliable poll workers
  • Count all provisional ballots
  • Prohibit voter caging
  • Protect voters from deceptive practices and intimidation

Demand Accountability in Election Administration

  • Create a national voter hotline
  • Ensure votes are counted correctly
  • Reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission