Coons said he does not want move on from Election Day without addressing the problems many voters faced. He introduced legislation that would establish a grant program within the Justice Department to provide states with incentives to improve their voting processes.
Efforts to improve election administration and address the long lines that greeted voters on Election Day shifted to Capitol Hill on Thursday as House and Senate lawmakers unveiled related bills.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., introduced legislation that would establish a competitive-grant program within the Justice Department to provide states with incentives to improve their voting processes.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., quickly pledged to co-sponsor the bill, citing the “embarrassment” that long lines caused Virginia last week.
“In Prince William County, folks waited for up to three hours. In Chesapeake, Va., folks waited up to four hours. It was remarkable that it was five days after the fact before we even knew the results in Florida,” Warner said on the Senate floor.
The problems were “profoundly concerning and upsetting to me,” Coons told reporters at a briefing. “That a dozen years after the debacle of the 2000 election, that we should still have these challenges and problems all across the country ... I thought it was time to do something.”
His bill is a multipronged effort to improve access to the polls. It asks states to create flexible registration opportunities, emphasize early voting periods, promote no-excuse absentee voting, provide foreign language assistance, improve accessibility for disabled voters, train election officials, audit polls with long wait times and create contingency plans for voting during natural and other disasters.
The legislation, which so far does not authorize a specific dollar amount, was styled after the grant program that the Obama administration used in its Race to the Top education program.
Coons said that in preparing the measure he had spoken with voters and election officials in his home state, including Democratic Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock. He declined to say whether he had consulted the White House, but he noted that President Barack Obama referred to voting problems in his victory speech, declaring, “We have to fix that.”
On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., announced that he intended to introduce a measure to shorten wait times at polling places. The bill, which has 35 interested co-sponsors, would require states to have early-voting periods of at least 15 days. Though it was developed separately from the Senate bill, Miller’s office said he looked forward to working with Coons on the issue.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.