A co-sponsor of the bill, Clyburn said its goals are to improve voter accessibility and the integrity and accountability of the election system.
Included in its provisions are requirements that electronic voting machines produce paper receipts, allowance of voter registration on election days, improved poll access for disabled voters, and creation of a national voter hotline.
The Act also calls for criminalization of voter intimidation practices and illegalization of deceptive tactics that intentionally mislead voters about their rights.
| || |
This national address to voting rights stems from consistent changes to states’ election laws in the last four years that appear polarized, Clyburn said.
“They’re aimed very directly at voting patterns favored by minority voters,” Clyburn told The State.
For example, a purging of voter registration records following the 2008 election cycles resulted in a five-percent drop of Hispanic voters nationwide, and seven percent of African-American voters were removed from the rosters.
Since 2011, 41 states including South Carolina introduced 180 bills that would restrict voting rights, such as by voter ID requirements, limited registration, and reduction in early voting periods. In less than two years, 25 of the 180 proposals as well as two executive orders were passed in 19 states.
These 19 states account for 231 electoral votes in presidential elections – 86 percent of the number needed to win.
Other vote-compromising efforts were done directly by state election and voter registration offices, as well.
The eight declared “battleground states” of the 2012 presidential race, for example – Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina and Pennsylvania – had collectively dropped over half a million registered voters from their records since 2008.
In response to these potentially-polarized actions, Clyburn’s Voter Empowerment Act also requires that election officials be demonstrably non-partisan, as well, and not be allowed to play any role in political campaigns.
In 2011, South Carolina state legislature passed law requiring citizens to present state-issued photo identification in order to vote, affecting over a quarter-million registered voters in the state.
Following a challenge from the U.S. Dept. of Justice in federal court, the Voter ID law remains valid, but now accepts other identification, and also allows provisional ballots to voters with “reasonable impediment” to producing such ID at the polls.
Other bills calling for restrictions in early voting and accommodations to disabled voters were introduced to South Carolina’s legislature this month, as well.
A similar national Voter Empowerment Act was introduced last year. Referred to a House committee in May 2012, it was never brought to vote.