The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the topic of the day in Washington, so I thought it would be good for people to know what the proposed legislation includes.
The act is currently held up in the Senate where Democrats and Republicans each have 50 votes. With zero Republicans willing to vote for the act, it cannot muster the 60 votes necessary to override a Senate Republican filibuster. Thus, it is likely to fail in its current form.
As stated by American historian Heather Cox Richardson, the act “establishes a baseline for access to the ballot across all states.” That is, while states would be allowed to set their own rules for voting, the bill requires minimum standards and timelines that should be consistent for all Americans, regardless of which state they reside in.
For example, some American citizens have many weeks to vote prior to election day while others have just one day to vote, depending on their state, county, or city. Some Americans can vote by mail, while others cannot. The Voting Rights Bill sets minimum national standards for national elections and the states can set their own guidelines within those standards.
The act states that voters should have at least two weeks of early voting for any town of more than 3,000 people. States could offer more days of early voting, but not less. The bill states that during that two-week period of time, voters should have opportunities to vote at night and on weekends and that the polls should be open at least 10 hours a day during early voting periods. These standards would help to accommodate people who are working various shifts.
The act would also allow people to vote by mail, which many states already do, but many other states severely limit the option. It also would allow people to take their ballots to polling stations or to official drop boxes, guaranteeing these voters will be counted as long as their ballots are postmarked by Election Day, which would become a national holiday.
One of the controversial issues about American elections is voter identification. Rules vary from state to state and change frequently within each state. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would provide uniform standards for voter identification requirements in states that require identification.
The act would allow for automatic voter registration at state departments of motor vehicles. It also would allow for both same-day voter registration and online voter registration, requiring that citizens purged from voter registration lists be notified and informed about how to regain eligibility.
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An old and common trick used by politicians to reduce the vote in specific geographic areas that are less likely to vote for their candidate is to call voters or pass out flyers advertising the incorrect voting date and location. The act would make it a crime to encourage voters by phone calls or by flyers to vote on the wrong date or in the wrong location.
The act would require candidates for public office to disclose where they are getting their campaign funding and to identify the people or businesses paying for their campaign ads.
During the 2020 election, many state and local election officials were intimidated and harassed after reporting election results. The act would provide some protection for local election officials from harassment to change their results to benefit a specific presidential candidate.
Importantly, it would require that voting machines have paper records and that any audits of election results have clear rules and procedures. We all remember some states conducting repeated ballot recounts by questionable characters and companies with no election experience.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is supported by a majority of Americans, according to recent polling, and most say it should pass the Senate by a simple majority vote. A recent poll by Data for Progress found that a majority of both political parties support most of the requirements of the act. Yet, not a single Republican in the Senate will vote for it.
Sad, indeed, that insuring access and convenience to voting would not be a bipartisan effort by American politicians, regardless of political affiliation. Here we are in 2022 with our very access to democracy in question simply because one political party acts as if it only can win by restricting voting access for some Americans.
Tom Zirpoli is a professor and program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster and his column appears on Wednesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.