A Voter Protection Act

avm20machineWhat sort of bill might provide necessary voter protections?  I recommend something along the following lines, addressing three issues: 1. voter eligibility, 2. gerrymandering, and 3. vote counting.   In my view, all citizens should be registered and eligible to vote.  Rules should be liberally construed to ensure that no such right to vote is denied.  Redistricting laws should expressly prohibit gerrymandering.  Vote counting must preserve a paper trail.  Any electronic counting machine must be certified as secure from manipulation.

 An Act Protecting the Right to  Vote

Section 1.  Concerning the right of all citizens to vote.  Every citizen of the United States eighteen years of age or older shall be eligible to vote in all state and national elections, including elections for President, and elections for each state and federal Senator and Representative in the electoral district of domicile.  Each state shall promulgate laws and regulations to ensure the registration of all such citizens, including automatic registration on attaining one’s eighteenth year, and provisions to enroll any unregistered citizen by cross-checking registration records with state licensing laws and federal social security records.  An eligible voter whose identity as a citizen is known to polling personnel, or who shows a state license or other indicia of identity at a poll, may not be denied the vote.  No citizen may be deprived of the right to vote unless that person has been adjudicated incompetent in a court of law.

Section 2.  Prohibiting Gerrymandering.  The practice known as gerrymandering is hereby expressly forbidden in the drawing of  state and Congressional district boundaries and no such district may be drawn for the purpose of conveying a political advantage.

Section 3.   Concerning security of vote counts.  All votes in state and national elections must be cast pursuant to a paper ballot, which ballot must be retained to allow such recount or audit as may be deemed necessary.   Paper ballots may be counted by machine, provided such machine has been certified by the Justice Department of the United States as secure against electronic manipulation of reported results and as secure from interference through electronic media.  In the event that electronically reported results are challenged due to anomaly or are challenged in a contest in which the winning margin is 10 percent of the votes or less, the paper ballots shall be recorded by hand and that result shall be binding.

Section 4.  The Justice Department of the United States shall take such actions as may be necessary to protect and enforce the voting rights set out herein.

Section 5.  Any law of the United States that conflicts with the provisions of this act shall be reconciled therewith.

 

Issues for consideration:  Voting rights have been addressed numerous times since the formation of the Republic.  Understanding where that law is now is a necessary prerequisite to further legislating.  The Wikipedia entry on the Voting Rights Act of 1965 contains much of the relevant information,  The Voting Rights Act remains in force today, but has proven ineffective in recent years since the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder struck down what was known as the section 5 “coverage formula” that required certain states with a history of discrimination to “pre-approve” changes in election laws.  Since Shelby, numerous states have enacted or are considering provisions that have the practical effect of suppressing voter turnout.  Section one of my proposed bill makes voter eligibility automatic for all citizens and places a duty on states to ascertain those citizens domiciled in their state.  My bill assumes continued enforcement of existing prohibitions on discrimination.

Gerrymandering is also an issue subject to considerable ongoing litigation.  Current law, for example, under Thornburg v. Gingles sets out tests for weighing whether a redistricting plan inappropriately discriminates against a racial or ethnic minority.  My judgment is that recent gerrymandering has been used by parties for partisan advantage, wholly apart from racial or minority concerns, and in those cases inappropriately predetermines electoral outcomes.  I suggest a simple ban on gerrymander for political purposes, period.

Finally, with the Russian cyber-operatives meddling in the 2016 election, it has become clear that existing voting machines in many jurisdictions are not secure from hacking and that, in some of those jurisdictions, the lack of a paper trail makes an audit of the results impossible.  It’s time that the security of electoral results be directly addressed.

This bill is intended as a draft only, for discussion purposes.  I welcome input, including research as to existing laws or proposals in these areas.  I also recognize that like Universal Healthcare, the current establishment may not consider itself ready for Universal Registration.   Nonetheless, universal registration is also the global norm and has been enacted in some states.  If we care about a true democracy, the appropriateness of universal registration seems self-evident.  See for example, this article by Seth McElwee in the Huffpost, “Why Universal Voter Registration Matters“, and this article in The Los Angeles Times, “The merits of universal voter registration“.

 

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