Two lawmakers have wasted no time in calling for the newly sworn-in Congress to extend early voting and reduce polling-place lines, after an election season that featured voting waits as long as six hours.
Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn and Rep. George Miller (D-California) released a bill on Thursday that would mandate 15 days of early voting in each state and reduce wait times at polling places.
The legislation is very similar to the SIMPLE Voting Act that Miller introduced in mid-November of last year. That bill died in committee.
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With the new Congress now in session, Miller and Clyburn have renewed what they say is a push to protect voter rights.
"It ensures that voters are no longer left to spend their Election Day waiting in line, and it offers the federal government more tools to ensure voter access to the polls," they said in a statement. "Further action is needed to guarantee that the right to vote is protected; but this measure marks a critical first step in the path to reform and offers an immediate remedy to some of the greatest challenges in our elections."
The bill calls for more state workers and voting equipment to reduce wait times, so that no one has to stand in line for more than one hour.
"Each State shall provide a sufficient number of voting systems, poll workers, and other election resources (including physical resources) at a polling place used in any election for Federal office, including a polling place at which individuals may cast ballots prior to the date of the election…" reads the bill.
Miller and Clyburn offered a motion to ask the House to consider the bill on Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, but it was rejected 229-194. All Democrats and one Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, supported the motion, but the vast majority of Republicans opposed it.
"It's pretty hard to understand why anybody would be opposed to enhancing the existing right to vote in light of the fact that it's fairly well established that fraud is not a real concern," said, Daniel Weiss, Miller's chief of staff. "It's a fabricated concern on the part of Republicans who wanted to minimize young people's right to vote, minorities' right to vote, and seniors' right to vote, because they know Democrats receive a lot of votes from those constituencies."
Republican lawmakers in states such as Florida and Ohio attempted to limit early voting in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, and the vote breakdown of the Thursday motion indicates it's not something they're interested in discussing right now. During the election season, Republican legislators in Ohio argued that early voting would place an undo burden on state officials preparing for the election.
But Weiss says he thinks that by bringing the issue up in relevant House committees and encouraging nonpartisan voter rights organizations such as NYU's Brennan Center for Justice to talk about voter reform, supporters of the legislation will be able to drum up some Republican backing.
One of the most powerful things the bill's supporters can do, said Weiss, is "present them with evidence" that voter fraud, often cited by Republicans as a key concern, is almost nonexistent.
Weiss was less specific about which Republicans exactly he expects to support such legislation, and suggested asking Congressman Jones, the lone Republican supporter of the Thursday motion.
Jones' office did not immediately return a call requesting comment.
And while reducing wait times at polling places is a good idea in theory, obtaining the poll workers and equipment necessary could be expensive.
Weiss said it will be up to the states to figure out how to afford any changes that the bill might require.
"States have to figure out how to get that done. Long lines are not a problem in every state," he said. "Some states have obviously figured out how to get this done."