Democrats, their progressive allies, and others have been for months playing defense against a rising tide of largely Republican-led, state-level laws designed to limit the access millions of Americans have to vote. House Democrats have now introduced federal legislation designed to take the issue head-on.
Democrats and other advocates complain that these laws, such those which require only certain forms of ID — but don’t allow others — for instance, were crafted specifically to keep Democratic-leaning voters away from polling places this fall. Up until now, the fight against these initiatives largely has been about trying to overturn them where possible — but mostly about getting the word out, registering voters and helping those affected cope with the new requirements.
A number of high-ranking Democrats on Thursday introduced the Voter Empowerment Act, which they describe as comprehensive voting rights legislation to modernize the nation’s voter registration system, ensure equal access to the ballot box for all Americans, and combat state-level attempts to restrict the ability of Americans to vote.
“All Americans have a fundamental right to participate in our electoral process. Far too often, however, voices are silenced with discriminatory barriers, and many across the country are not only enforcing those barriers but enacting new restrictive measures,” says Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, leader of the House Democrats. “That is why House Democrats took action today, rolling out the Voter Empowerment Act to protect and promote voting rights. Rooted in the simple, basic principle that we must ensure the right of every citizen to vote and every vote to be counted, this critical legislation achieves three key goals: improving access, protecting integrity, and ensuring accountability.”
The flurry of statutes enacted over the last year or so, usually at the direction of Republican governors and state legislators in states as farflung as Alabama, Florida and Wisconsin, will have a direct impact on the ability of 21 million American citizens who do not have a government-issued photo ID, voters to cast their ballots this year, critics of these laws contend. The majority of those people are young would-be voters, the elderly, African Americans, Hispanics, and those earning $35,000 per year or less, they add.
The Voter Empowerment Act aims to open voting through a number of means, its sponsors say, including authorizing an online registration option and same-day registration and permitting voters to update their registration data on-site — while also protecting against deceptive practices and intimidation.
“We’re proud of the fact that we’re the world’s oldest constitutional democracy. One of our responsibilities – moral, ethical, legal – ought to be to make sure we facilitate, not impede, a person’s ability to vote,” Rep. Steny Hoyer, the second-highest ranking House Democrat, says in an interview with MSNBC. “Facilitate access, facilitate ease of registration, facilitate getting on the rolls, and being able to cast your vote. And America has a responsibility as I said – moral, ethical, and legal – to make sure every American can exercise that.”
Democrats, however, face steep hurdles in approving this legislation in a House currently controlled by Republicans.
WATCH A VIDEO OF HOYER’S INTERVIEW ON MSNBC HERE: