Today, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Reverend Raphael Warnock, and U.S. House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn and Congresswoman Nikema Williams announced the reintroduction of the bicameral Voter Empowerment Act, legislation originally authored in the House by civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis, who passed away last year. 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. The Voter Empowerment Act is a cornerstone of the For the People Act, a transformational voting rights, anti-corruption and clean elections reform package.
The reintroduction comes as Republican legislatures across the country are passing archaic voter suppression laws, designed to disproportionately disenfranchise communities of color. In Georgia, the state legislature passed sweeping legislation that would shorten the runoff cycle, place restrictions on early voting locations, make giving food or drinks to a voter a misdemeanor, allow for unlimited challenges to voter registration and eligibility, and implement other provisions designed to make voting harder. Similar laws are under consideration in numerous states with Republican controlled legislatures, including Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah and more.
“Working alongside my friend, the late Congressman John Lewis, on the Voter Empowerment Act was one of the great honors of my career, and I’m proud to continue this work with Senator Warnock, Congressman Clyburn, and Congresswoman Williams,” said U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “As Republican legislatures across the country seek to pass voter suppression laws that will disenfranchise communities of color, it is critical that we pass the Voter Empowerment Act to strengthen the integrity of our elections and ensure that voting is equal, fair and accessible for all Americans. We owe it to Congressman Lewis’ legacy and to our democracy.”
“Voting rights are preservative of every right in our democracy, and the Voter Empowerment Act, originally authored by my parishioner and mentor John Lewis, is one of the most important steps we can take to expand access to the ballot and help ensure that the people are able to make their voices heard,” U.S. Senator Reverend Warnock said, who is also a lead co-sponsor of the For the People Act in the Senate. “Especially following the rash of voter suppression proposals being enacted in Georgia and offered nationwide, this critical legislation will make it easier for people to vote and is essential to ensuring our democracy is by the people and working for the people. I’m proud to stand with Senator Gillibrand, Chairman Clyburn and Representative Williams in honoring the legacy of our hero by working to get this legislation over the finish line.”
“The late Congressman John Lewis nearly gave his life to secure the right to vote and I am committed to honoring his legacy and preserving our democracy,” said Whip Clyburn. “That is why I am proud to introduce the Voter Empowerment Act with Congresswoman Williams and Senators Gillibrand and Warnock. This bill will strengthen critically-needed ballot box protections in this country. As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to ensure that all eligible Americans have the right to cast a ballot that will be counted and make their voices heard.”
“The Voter Empowerment Act uplifts the legacy of my friend, mentor and predecessor, Congressman John Lewis,” said Rep. Williams. “The blatantly racist voter suppression that was signed into law in Georgia shows the urgent need for us to take action on the federal level to break down barriers to voting and ensure the integrity of our elections. Your zip code should not determine if you have free and fair access to the ballot. It’s time we get into ‘Good Trouble’ as we stop the Jim Crow 2.0 Voter Suppression efforts we are seeing across the country.”
The Voter Empowerment Act takes a comprehensive approach to close the gaps in voting access and ensure that every American can participate in the electoral process. Specifically, it would do the following:
Modernizes Voter Registration
- Requires states to make available online voter registration, correction, cancellation and designation of party affiliation.
- Requires states to automatically register to vote any eligible unregistered citizens.
- Establishes same-day voter registration, including during early voting.
- Prohibits purging of voter rolls by limiting the authority of states to remove registrants from the official list of eligible voters in elections for federal office in the state based on interstate voter registration crosschecks.
- Makes it unlawful to hinder, interfere or prevent an individual from registering to vote, and requires the Election Assistance Commission to develop best practices for states to deter and prevent such violations.
Improves access to voting for vulnerable Americans
- Requires states to promote access to voter registration and voting for persons with disabilities and older individuals. Funds grants to improve voting accessibility for persons with disabilities and creates a pilot program to allow persons with disabilities to register and vote from home.
Prohibits Voter Caging
- Prohibits the use of returned non-forwardable mail as the basis for removing registered voters from the rolls. Prohibits challenges to eligibility from individuals who are not election officials without an oath of good faith factual basis.
Early voting and vote-by-mail
- Requires at least 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections. Requires that early voting locations be near public transportation, in rural areas and open for at least 10 hours per day.
- Prohibits a state from imposing restrictions on vote by mail, requires the state to implement a program to track and confirm receipt of mail ballots, and requires the prepayment of postage and return envelopes.
Prohibiting Deceptive Practices and Preventing Voter Intimidation
- Makes it unlawful to provide false information about elections in order to hinder or discourage voting.
- Increases penalties for voter intimidation and prescribes sentencing guidelines for those individuals found guilty of such deceptive practices.
- Restores federal voting rights to individuals with a criminal record, so long as they are not serving a felony sentence in a correctional facility. Requires states and the federal government to notify individuals convicted of state or federal felonies, respectively, of their re-enfranchisement.
Reauthorizes Election Assistance Commission
- Establishes Eliminates the existing funding cap
- Requires each state to comply with any EAC request for post-election survey following any regularly scheduled general election for federal office
- Directs the Election Assistance Commission to assess the security, cybersecurity and effectiveness of the Commission’s information technology systems