Passage of Senate Bill Called First Step to ‘Value Every Voter’
WASHINGTON – In the wake of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s release of its report on last fall’s election irregularities, nearly a dozen civil rights organizations joined members of Congress at the Capitol this afternoon to urge Congress to pass the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act (S. 565), which is sponsored by Senator Christopher Dodd (Dem.– CT) and U.S. Rep. John Conyers (Dem.– MI).
People For the American Way, which joined the NAACP to co-convene hearings in Florida on election irregularities, called the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act an important first step toward ensuring that the voting rights of all Americans are respected and enforced. People For the American Way Foundation is serving as co-counsel in NAACP v. Harris, a lawsuit seeking relief for voting problems suffered last November by African Americans in Florida.
Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way, said that the unfairness and injustice chronicled in the U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s report cries out for a swift and sustained response. He pointed to recent Senate hearings during which it was disclosed that 2.5 million Americans cast votes that went uncounted.
"We now know that the votes of 2.5 million Americans were invalidated last November. This figure doesn’t include people who were unjustly turned away from the polls because election workers told them they were not registered or legally able to vote," said Neas. "Our entire system of government is based on the belief that a fair and peaceful process exists for citizens to make their views known. This belief was seriously scarred by the shameful events of last November, and this scar won’t heal unless Congress acts decisively."
The Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act is aimed at addressing a variety of concerns raised in last year’s presidential election, including the accuracy of voter registration records; voter accessibility for the disabled, the elderly, limited-English speakers, and others; and the assurance that every voter has
a fair and equal opportunity to cast a valid ballot. Neas said the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act was critically important.
"Too many states have a virtual ‘grab bag’ of voting procedures that differ from city to city and county to county. Some of these voting methods work fine, but others can confuse voters and undermine their honest intentions," said Neas. "By passing the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act, Congress can take a strong step in the right direction and make it clear that we value every voter."
Specifically, the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act would:
require states to meet uniform, nondiscriminatory standards for voting and technology by 2004.
ensure that sample ballots and voting instructions are distributed in advance of elections.
establish a temporary 12-member bipartisan commission to examine "best practices" and issue a report on ways to improve voter registration and participation, and election technology.
Neas said that the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act can serve as the impetus for reforms that eliminate the chaos and confusion that reigned last November.
"In many states, not just Florida, there were serious concerns about voting machines that didn’t work, election rules that were cumbersome and confusing, and names that should have appeared on voter registration lists, but didn’t. When any state discards thousands of ballots or purges thousands of duly registered voters from its lists, a great democracy like ours must say: never again," Neas explained.
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