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.
It was unclear Thursday how much bipartisan support the measures would garner. There were frequent disputes over ballot-access measures during the recently concluded election cycle. Most legal challenges pitted GOP- controlled state legislatures concerned about voter fraud against Democrats worried about voter suppression. Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas passed voter identification measures that were blocked by courts from taking effect before the elections. A federal court likewise delayed changes to Ohio’s early voting period after the Obama campaign sued.
The last large-scale congressional effort to address state-level election administration was during the aftermath of the 2000 election meltdown, when lawmakers created a bipartisan federal agency to dole out more then $3 billion to states for improved election administration. As Roll Call reported, the Election Assistance Commission now sits without a single commissioner, executive director or general counsel and has not been able to conduct official business for almost two years. Congressional Republicans have consistently opposed efforts to retool the commission and have called for its elimination when asked to recommend or confirm commissioners.
Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., last year led a successful effort in the House to eliminate the commission that died in the Senate. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Ill., has since 2001 been gathering support for a Constitutional amendment that grants an “individual right to vote” and the congressional authority to create a uniform voting system, but all of the bill’s 51 co-sponsors and interested co-sponsors are Democrats.
Coons and Warner acknowledged that any successful effort would need bipartisan support.
Coons said the newly proposed “simple, clear grant system” would be a narrowly tailored way for Congress to play an “appropriate federal role” in catalyzing improved election administration at the state level.
“This bill is to chart a different path forward that tries to incentivize states to get past some of the partisanship of voter ID, voter access, voting days and move forward,” Coons said.
Warner in his floor remarks twice emphasized the “relatively small” nature of the proposed program.
“I don’t want us to move past the election too quickly and not deal with the very real and ongoing problems of voter registration, voter access and voter rights,” Coons said. “I think we need to continue to work responsibly across the aisle to deal with this.”
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.