This year’s election resulted in widespread problems at the polls – broken voting machines, insufficient ballots, and prohibitively long waits. Across Northern Virginia where turnout was high, voters experienced some of the longest waits in the nation. A number of Virginia voters waited up to four hours to cast their ballot. Though we expected the high turnout, our local officials were not adequately prepared.
The Election Day voting issues extended far beyond Virginia. In Florida, early voters saw the doors of their polling places closed while they were standing in line. According to the New York Times, Ohio’s election board falsely told thousands of people they were not registered, then instructed those voters to use provisional ballots, which were not counted for two weeks.
Unfortunately, voters who experienced the greatest hardship were mostly lower income, minority, and first time voters. For those working hourly wage jobs, waiting over two hours to cast a ballot is money out of their pocket that won’t be available to feed their family and pay the mortgage. A larger turnout and longer than average wait is expected during a presidential election, but a wait of more than two hours is unacceptable.
The widespread nature of these problems calls for a federal response. To that end, I introduced, the “Voting Line Reduction and Online Registration Act” to modernize our nation’s voting process – eliminating long lines at the polls, allowing online voter registration, and requiring early voting in every state.
Specifically, my legislation targets three areas for improvement:
1) Establish an Internet voting registration system;
2) Requires at least a week of early voting; and
3) Expedites wait times at the polls on Election Day.
Over the past few decades, we have seen technological advances that improve our daily lives; you can now go online to pay your bills, file taxes or register your car. We should have the same online access when registering to vote and updating voting information. This would streamline the process, reduce unnecessary paperwork, save taxpayers money and people time out of their day.
The “Voting Line Reduction and Online Registration Act” also requires early voting in all states for at least seven days before Election Day. Currently, only 32 states allow early voting. Virginia allows for in-person absentee voting, but many voters did not qualify to vote early. Given the traffic concerns in Northern Virginia, early voting would eliminate the stress of getting to the polls before they close.
The third area ripe for reform is the number of resources available to voters. The long waits experienced on Election Day were due in large part to insufficient or faulty voting equipment. My bill aims to cut wait down to one hour by directing the Election Assistance Commission to set a minimum number of voting systems, poll workers, and other election resources at each voting site for all Federal elections.
Voting is a treasured right that our nation struggled mightily to make available to all Americans. Every eligible voter should be able to vote without fear of suppression, harassment, or undue hardship. This year’s elections exposed flaws in our current system. The government has a responsibility to ensure the system works and Congress needs to act on this issue.