By Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) - 02/12/13 12:09 AM EST
We are no longer in an election year — which makes this the perfect time to take action on election reform.
November’s elections were a wake-up call. Tens of thousands of Americans, including Republicans and Democrats in both “red states” and “blue states,” saw their fundamental right to vote for the candidate of their choice eroded by exceptionally long lines, confusing rules and voting-machine problems in well over a dozen states.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama should make clear that such problems have no place in our elections, and he should challenge Congress to help prevent them from happening again.
As Americans, the right to vote is in our DNA. We have to do better than this, and we can do better if we take action now by challenging states to implement common-sense changes well before the next election.
The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act, which I introduced just days after the November election, would incentivize states to turn around their poorest-performing polling places and improve the administration of their elections to make voting faster and more accessible to all voters.
As a former county executive, I know that states are laboratories of democracy. When it comes to administering elections, many states and counties are getting it right, and it is important we learn from them and replicate their success elsewhere in the country.
Last month, elections administrators from around Florida presented Gov. Rick Scott with a list of reforms they’d like to see implemented to prevent the election problems they saw last year from happening again. Scott — who two years earlier signed into law a bill to reduce access to the polls — admitted his state’s elections process was “clearly in need of improvement,” and said he agreed with some of the elections supervisors’ proposals.
This type of analysis should be done in every state, and the federal government can play a role in incentivizing processes like this one and ensuring changes are made to last.
The FAST Voting Act focuses on cost-effective reforms such as making it easier to register to vote online and ensuring citizens who move to a new jurisdiction can easily transfer their voter registration. If we utilize the modern technology we already have access to, we can make it easier for all eligible Americans to cast their ballot and ensure that every vote is counted.
In his second inaugural address, Obama spoke of the long American march toward justice. “Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote,” he said.
Making it harder for citizens to vote is a violation of their civil rights. Long lines are a form of voter disenfranchisement. Running out of ballots is a form of voter suppression. Access is denied when registration is cumbersome or inaccessible and when early-vote or vote-by-mail options are not available.
The philosopher George Santayana once said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
If we ignore the assaults on Americans’ civil rights that we saw last November, we are certain to have to endure them next time around. We cannot stand by and allow that to happen, and instead we must take action to put meaningful election reforms in place now.
Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.