The only good thing about last week’s election is the outcome. Voters waited in long lines for several hours, and Teabaggers harassed voters at the polls, mostly in Democratic leaning areas. Republicans did their best to to disenfranchise poor, young and minority voters. Arizona even sent official notification that the election was on Wednesday, but only to Latinos, and still has not decided several races, because they held up over 500,000 ballots. Such abuses must never be allowed to happen again. We need a Federal Voters’ Bill of Rights.
…It is time for the nation to pass a tough federal Voters Bill of Rights. There is a lot of attention — for good reason — to high-profile causes like campaign finance reform and putting an end to partisan gerrymandering. But as last week’s election showed, there is an urgent need to focus more on the simple mechanics of running elections.
The long lines are a good place to start, and some members of Congress realize it. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democratic member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, told the congressional newspaper The Hill that “we need to address this problem,” and compared this year’s voting to “elections in a third-world country.”
A Voters’ Bill of Rights could impose federal standards on the states that would drive down waiting times. It could require states to have lengthy early voting periods in all federal elections. And it could set out minimum standards for how many voting machines a state must have for every thousand voters assigned to a polling place.
A Voters’ Bill of Rights could also make it a federal crime to deceive potential voters about the time, place, or manner of an election. This is something the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, a bill sponsored by New York Senator Chuck Schumer, calls for. There would be fewer robo-calls telling people the wrong day for the election and fewer fliers misrepresenting voter ID requirements if people felt they might go to jail for their deceptions.
A federal Voters’ Bill of Rights could also do an end-run around state laws that make it unnecessarily expensive or difficult to get an ID that will be accepted at the polls. The law could establish a federal voter ID, available easily and for free, that states would be required to accept in federal elections. A Voters’ Bill of Rights could also regulate how states purge voters from their rolls. At least since Florida’s infamous 2000 voting roll purge, states have been wrongly removing eligible voters from the rolls.
A key reason that elections are run so badly is that in most states political partisans are in charge. This was a key problem with the 2000 election meltdown in Florida. Katherine Harris, Florida’s Secretary of State, both served as co-chair of George W. Bush’s election campaign and made the election rules. This year, Ohio’s Secretary of State, Jon Husted, made decisions — from trying to limit early voting hours to trying to make it harder to cast provision ballots — that critics saw as driven by political partisanship.
A federal Voters’ Bill of Rights could press the states to put non-partisan managers in charge of elections. There is a good model for this in the Government Accountability Board, which runs Wisconsin elections. Members of the board are selected in ways designed to minimize political partisanship and they are expected to put fair elections ahead of politics… [emphasis added]
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I have very little to add, except that I consider campaign spending reform and the elimination of partisan gerrymandering equally important. I look forward to seeing legislation introduced for a Federal Voters’ Bill of Rights. If Republicans block it, the political cost for doing so will be overwhelming, because that only reason to oppose such a measure is the intent to abuse power to steal elections.