Legislation Would Enact Sweeping Reforms by Next Major Election Cycle in 2006

WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today unveiled comprehensive voting reform legislation to make sure that every American is able to vote and every vote is counted. Senators Clinton and Boxer announced the legislation today in a press conference joined by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH), who will sponsor the legislation in the House of Representatives, and voting rights advocates. 

"Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process," said Senator Clinton.  "The smooth functioning of our democracy depends on voters having faith in the fairness and accuracy of our voting system, and the Count Every Vote Act is an important step toward restoring this covenant.  We must be able to easily and accurately count every vote so that every vote counts."

Added Senator Boxer: "Every citizen of this country should be guaranteed that their vote matters, that their vote is counted, and that in the voting booth, their vote has a much weight as that of any CEO, any member of Congress, or any President.  Our democracy is the centerpiece of who we are as a nation, and we must take action to ensure that the American people have full confidence in our electoral system."

"I am pleased to join with Senators Clinton and Boxer in introducing companion legislation in the House as we continue our efforts to ensure that every American is afforded their Constitutional right to vote," said Representative Tubbs Jones.  "This legislation seeks to combat the tremendous voting irregularities that plagued both the 2000 and 2004 elections. If in fact we see it is our obligation to secure democracy around the world, to monitor and oversee free and fair elections in other countries, most recently in Iraq, then we must ensure, protect and guarantee the right to vote right here at home."

The Count Every Vote Act of 2005 will provide a voter verified paper ballot for every vote cast in electronic voting machines and ensures access to voter verification for all citizens, including language minority voters, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities.  The bill mandates that this ballot be the official ballot for purposes of a recount.  The bill sets a uniform standard for provisional ballots so that every qualified voter will know their votes are treated equally, and requires the Federal Election Assistance Commission to issue standards that ensure uniform access to voting machines and trained election personnel in every community.  The bill also improves security measures for electronic voting machines. 

To encourage more citizens to exercise their right to vote, the Count Every Vote Act designates Election Day a federal holiday and requires early voting in each state.  The bill also enacts "no-excuse" absentee balloting, enacts fair and uniform voter registration and identification, and requires states to allow citizens to register to vote on Election Day.  It also requires the Election Assistance Commission to work with states to reduce wait times for voters at polling places.  In addition, the legislation restores voting rights for felons who have repaid their debt to society. 

The Count Every Vote Act also includes measures to protect voters from deceptive practices and conflicts of interest that harm voter trust in the integrity of the system.  In particular, the bill restricts the ability of chief state election officials as well as owners and senior managers of voting machine manufacturers to engage in certain kinds of political activity.  The bill also makes it a federal crime to commit deceptive practices, such as sending flyers into minority neighborhoods telling voters the wrong voting date, and makes these practices a felony punishable by up to a year of imprisonment.

Today, representatives from civil rights organizations and voting rights advocates praised the legislation, including People For the American Way, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, NAACP, Common Cause, the National Voting Rights Institute, DEMOS and the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.  The leaders emphasized the urgent need for the bill.

"Every American citizen should be able to cast a vote that counts, and it should not be difficult," said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way, one of the founding members of the Election Protection coalition.  "This bill provides practical, secure accessible solutions at the ballot box for Americans with disabilities, those who speak languages other than English, and other Americans who face hurdles in exercising their voting rights.  It's a great bill."  

"The Count Every Vote Act will go a long way toward restoring dignity to our nation's electoral system and will provide citizens across the nation with an opportunity to effectively participate in democratic decision-making," said Barbara R. Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee.

Senators Clinton and Boxer first introduced election reform legislation in the 108th Congress, together with former Senator Bob Graham.  In the meantime, another election cycle showed evidence of problems in the Federal election system, including long wait times to vote, erroneous purging of voters, voter suppression and intimidation and unequal access to the voting process.  The Count Every Vote Act requires that all provisions be in place for the next major election cycle in 2006. 

"We cannot let another Election Day go by without doing everything we can to make sure that voters have confidence in our voting system and exercise their right to vote," underscored Senator Clinton.  "This shouldn't be a Republican or Democratic issue.  This is a voter issue, plain and simple.  I call upon my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work with us to implement these common sense measures."

Senators Clinton and Boxer and Representative Tubbs Jones will work in the 109th Congress to keep attention to this issue and urge action.