I frequently have conversations with people about how we need to increase the number of people who actually participate in the election process. When compared to the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for instance, the United States ranks 31st in regards to voter participation. That’s because even in one of the most controversial elections in recent memory, only 59 percent of eligible voters decided to cast a ballot in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Those who did actually participate, were forced to use equipment that was at least a decade old according to the Brennan Center for Justice. This is important because frequent equipment breakdowns cannot only lead to questions about the reliability of vote totals, but also causes long lines for people who don’t necessarily have time to wait.
It’s with this in mind that Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and James Langevin (D-RI) have reintroduced the FAST Voting Act. The legislation is designed to improve voter participation, encourage automatic voter registration and enhance voting system security.
“Access to the ballot is fundamental to American democracy,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “In recent years, several states have taken action to restrict the franchise under the guise of preventing “voter fraud.” America doesn’t have a voter fraud problem; we have a participation problem. Rather than erect barriers, we should be looking for innovative ways to expand the franchise and streamline the voting process.”
The FAST Voting Act would allow states wanting to create policy changes to increase voter participation and voting system security to apply for federal funding to help implement these changes. Instead of using generalized proposals that might sound good at the national level, the legislation is designed to offer states flexibility to implement local reforms that work for their communities (a concept that might be coming from Connolly’s time on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors).
The legislation sets it up so that applicants would be able to compete for grants based on the previous reforms they’ve implemented and plans for any innovations in the future. There would also be funding available for any state that’s interested in implementing an automatic voter registration provision — something that could potentially increase voter participation by making sure everybody that’s eligible to voter is actually registered to do so.
“The right to vote is essential, and we must foster innovative solutions to bring down every barrier to casting a ballot. This is especially true for those in need of flexibility or assistance, such as people with disabilities, members of the armed services, seniors, and minority voters,” said Rep. Jim Langevin. “As a former Secretary of State, I know how critically important these efforts can be to increasing voter participation and fostering an inclusive electoral process where every American has a voice.”