Senate Bill Could Make Voting Faster

PHOTO: 
Hundred of voters wait in long lines to cast their ballots on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Miami.

Waiting four hours to vote is unacceptable.

At least that's what Senators Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Chris Coons (D-Delaware) are arguing. The two introduced legislation today that they say will make voting faster and more accessible.

The bill, called The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012, would award states grants based on how well they improve access to polls. That would be judged by a number of factors, including how flexible the registration process is, whether early voting is offered at least nine of the 10 days before an election, and whether absentee voting is offered.

The program would also consider whether non-English speakers and voters with disabilities receive adequate assistance at the polls.

"The extremely long lines and wait times that many Virginia voters experienced at the polls this week were completely unacceptable," Senator Warner said in a statement. "The FAST Voting Act addresses this issue in a responsible way: it does not impose new mandates, and authorizes additional resources for those states which step up with common sense reforms to make voting faster and accessible to more voters."

Where exactly that grant money would come from is "to be determined," according to Ian Koski, a spokesman for Senator Coons. He noted that the bill would just authorize and not appropriate funds.

"We're not intending for this to be new money," Koski said. "We want to make sure it comes out of existing funds. There's still quite a bit of work to be done on that front."

"We're working with the Justice Deptartment to identify existing funds that might be used for this program," wrote Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Senator Warner, in an email. "We figure it'll be a relatively modest amount of money."

Koski said the bill sponsors are still talking to local officials and secretaries of state to determine "the scope of the fix" for some of the voting issues, such as long lines.

Each state would have to apply for the funds.

Koski acknowledged that the bill sponsors forsee pushback, especially from conservatives. Critics are likely to argue that setting up more early voting days and upgrading technology, moves that would make states more likely to receive grant money, will be costly. Determining how to fund the program in a still-struggling economy is also a contentious issue.

Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, refused to extend early voting hours in the state earlier this year despite voting wait times of more than four hours.

Koski said the bill has gotten "only what can be described as interest" from Republicans.

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